Viet Nam officially became the 7th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1995. Since then Viet Nam has made positive contribution to maintaining internal solidarity, forstering cooperation among member countries as well as between ASEAN and other external partners for the development and success of ASEAN while improving the country’s position in the region and the world.
A turning-point decision
Coorperation achievements and practices of Viet Nam’s accession into ASEAN over the past 20 years reaffirm that this is a correct and timely decision of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, opening up a deep and profound international integration, enhancing Viet Nam’s position in the region and the world for national development.
First, it creates an environment for security, peace and stability in the region to protect and build the country. Viet Nam officially joined ASEAN on 28 July 1995 which was of important strategic significance to break the “political siege, and economic isolation” of the country, while creating an environment of peace in Southeast Asia, strengthening and promoting cooperation in the region. Viet Nam’s accession at that time helped ASEAN remove division among groups of countries, completing the idea of an association of 10 countries in Southeast Asia, an organization that represents the whole region. Since then, basic principles of ASEAN, such as consultation, consensus, non-interference in internal affairs, respect for independence, sovereignty and resolving disputes by peaceful means have become the guiding rules in relations between member states, creating an enabling environment for dialogue and cooperation in the region. This is a favorable condition for Viet Nam to strengthen ties with countries in the region for stable development of the country.
Not only that, given increasing interdependence in the region, ASEAN in the role linking member states for joint response, and settlement of common challenges, especially non-traditional security challenges (such as terrorism, transnational crimes, maritime security, climate change, natural disasters, diseases, water resources management, among others) has brought about direct benefits for Viet Nam through effective cooperation mechanisms of with a number of initiatives, such as ASEAN Action Plan on Climate Change, the ASEAN Strategic Plan of water resources management, among others.
In the East Sea, ASEAN has uphold its leading role in resolving important issues relating to peace, security, stability and development in the region. In face of continuous and complex developments in the East Sea in recent time, especially, when China illegally placed its Haiyan Shiyou 981oil rig deep into the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone of Viet Nam, and has been illegally building islands in Truong Sa (Spratlys), threatening the security and safety of navigation in the East Sea, ASEAN has adopted strong reaction and statement. For the first time since 1992, the foreign ministers of ASEAN member countries issued a separate Statement on the East Sea in 5 May 2014. Earlier, in a Joint Declaration issued at the end to the 26th ASEAN Summit in April 2015, the ASEAN leaders expressed strong concern and affirmed ASEAN's common stance with respect to the principles of international law, calling for restraint, not to complicate the situation, not to use or threaten to use force, to persistently resolve disputes through peaceful means, in accordance with international law.
Second, it helps develop the country through capitalizing assistance and support from regional resources. Acceding into ASEAN is one of the first steps of Viet Nam in international economic integration. ASEAN has been the first import-export market and foreign direct investment source of Viet Nam. Together with the impact of trade liberalization, enhancement of the economy’s competitiveness, promotion of foreign investment, after 20 years of regional integration, Viet Nam’s economic and trade relations with ASEAN have developed rigorously. To date, ASEAN has become one of Viet Nam's largest trading partner with bilateral trade turnover increase of almost 4.5 times in 11 years, from USD 8.9 billion in 2003 to USD 40 billion in 2013, accounting for approximately 15% of the total annual trade value of Viet Nam in 2013 (1). By the end of September 2014, the figure was USD 30.63 billion.
In addition, ASEAN has also helped Viet Nam prepare for deeper integration into the world economy in large playgrounds, such as participating in the World Trade Organization (WTO), negotiating the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP), negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union (EU); promoting trade, investment and access to potential markets through the ASEAN Free-Trade Area (AFTA), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS), the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA), the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI), among others.
In the investment sector, as of December 2014, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Viet Nam from ASEAN countries reached USD $ 53 billion with 2,507 projects, accounting for 14% of the total projects and 20% of the total investment capital of the country. ASEAN is present in most specialized areas of cooperation of Viet Nam. Investment of Viet Nam in ASEAN countries is also on the rise.
Third, it enhances the role and position of Viet Nam in the region and the world. As the role and strength of ASEAN are increasing, ASEAN's partners have acknowledged the central role of the association in the regional architecture. Economic and political centers in the world have been constantly enhancing cooperation with ASEAN through ASEAN-initiated and led mechanisms. The importance of ASEAN has enabled Viet Nam to promote their position and strength. In ASEAN, Viet Nam is considered a bright spot due to its political and social stability and security, dynamic economic development and attractive business and investment environment. ASEAN and ASEAN partners, especially big powers, have highly appreciated the position and the important role of Viet Nam, a factor of consideration when formulating and implementing policies for Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific. Besides, Viet Nam has strengthened its strategic position in the region, firmly integrated in bilateral linkage through building strategic partnership with ASEAN member countries, namely Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand, participating in regional mechanisms such as ASEAN+3, the East Asia Summit (EAS), the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum (APEC), the Asia-Europe Cooperation Meeting (ASEM).
Bringing into play the role of a proactively and responsible member
Viet Nam’s accession into ASEAN marks a step forward of the Southeast Asian countries in overcoming differences in political regimes towards comprehensive linkages, opening up a turning point in the history of development in the area. During the past years, Viet Nam has rapidly integrated in all fields of ASEAN cooperation, involving in developing orientation and major policies of the association, confirming its role as a proactive and responsible member. That role is reflected as follows:
First, Viet Nam is a factor of regional solidarity. Southeast Asia has been aptly described as “the Balkans of Asia.” When the Cold War ended in 1989, most observers expected conflict to erupt there while peace prevailed in the Balkans of Europe. What happened, instead, was the reverse (2). When Southeast Asia was prevailed by suspicion, even tension and confrontation between groups of countries, ASEAN’s admission of Viet Nam and Viet Nam’s accession into ASEAN have created cohesion in the region. In view of its geo-political position and its evolution, Viet Nam is a factor bringing groups in ASEAN closer together, and ending division in Southeast Asia.
The strong integration from differences of Viet Nam and the new members of ASEAN created substantive changes in regional cooperation. Given continuous renovation of all member countries, especially Viet Nam, ASEAN cooperation has transited from close-knit and inward-looking cooperation for political objectives among economies with similar levels of development, and market sharing to open cooperation, due to market requirements of economies with different levels of development which pool resources for linkage with the outside countries. ASEAN is working towards building a community and playing the central role in ensuring peace and stability in the region.
In the creation of the security framework for the region, Viet Nam has contributed to play up ASEAN's leading role in developing, sharing and promoting effective collaboration tools, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANFWZ), the Bali Declaration on Principles of Mutual Benefit Relations, among others, creating a playground for participating countries through mechanisms and agendas built and led by ASEAN, maintaining the leading role of ASEAN in the regional architecture which is taking shape.
In the East Sea, a complex problem related to peace, security and stability in the region, Viet Nam's response has demonstrated a positive, constructive and responsible approach, affirming that the common interest of all countries in and beyond the region is to ensure an environment of peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea; requiring related parties to seriously comply with international law, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), and early adopt the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).
Second, Viet Nam is a factor promoting the development and position of ASEAN. Located in the heart of the region extending from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and as a bridge between powers, small- and medium-sized countries, ASEAN has an extremely important position in the cooperation process in Asia. In a decade, Southeast Asia has made great changes, becoming a dynamically developing region of solidarity. From a loosely organized cooperation organization, and a small entity in Southeast Asia, ASEAN today has become a closely linked, a complete apparatus, one of the fastest growing and dynamic areas in the world and is an indispensable partner of important powers and international organizations. In that process, Viet Nam has played an important role, contributing to outlining directions of development, strategic orientations and policies of ASEAN, such as Vision 2020, the ASEAN Charter, the Ha Noi Declaration on Narrowing development Gap, the ASEAN Committee on Protection of Women and Girls, among others. Viet Nam has constituted a key voice in defending the goals and basic principles of the association, namely the objectives of peace, stability and regional linkage, proactively strengthening and promoting efficiency of mechanisms to ensure regional security.
At time of difficulties in ASEAN, Viet Nam has become one of the factors that help ASEAN regain strength, creating momentum to overcome crises. When ASEAN’s prestige declined due to the serious financial crisis in 1997, Viet Nam successfully played host to the 6th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi in 1998 which adopted the Hanoi Programme of Action (HPA), paving the way for ASEAN to overcome the financial crisis, strengthen solidarity, promote cooperation, regain its position and define directions for development to realize Vision 2020.
In 2010, Viet Nam successfully fulfiled its role as ASEAN Chairman while the global financial and economic crisis spread out, creating a crucial basis for building the ASEAN Community, realizing ASEAN Charter, and operating ASEAN's new apparatus, promoting ASEAN's central role in ensuring peace, stability and cooperation in the region, including the East Sea issue. The 2010 East Asia Summit was extended to include Russia and the US, raising its importance.
For the common objective of development, Viet Nam has joined the ASEAN countries to enhance cooperation and liberalization of trade, services and investment with partners in and outside the region, such as the implementation of AFTA, and the East-West Corridor. Given its high economic growth, quick poverty reduction, and shift to market economy with achievements, Viet Nam has taken the lead among ASEAN 4 (including Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam), constituting a pull factor, narrowing the development gap, becoming a successful growth model in ASEAN.
Besides strengthening cooperation and intra-regional linkage, Viet Nam has jointed in boosting cooperation between ASEAN and outside partners in many different fields. As the coordinator of ASEAN with important dialogue partners, such as Japan, Russia, the US, Australia, Viet Nam has brought into play its role, acting as a bridge to strengthen relations between ASEAN and its partners, including the removal of some obstacles, elevating relations between the two parties which was highly appreciated by both ASEAN and dialogue partners. Viet Nam has also made positive contributions to maintaining the leading role of ASEAN in regional cooperation initiated by ASEAN, such as ASEAN+ 1, ASEAN+3, EAS, ARF, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM).
Third, Viet Nam is a factor contributing to building a strong ASEAN community. In 2015, ASEAN completes establishing a unified community with elevated regional connectivity in all aspects through the three main pillars inlcluding the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).
Since the initiation of the idea to build the ASEAN Community by 2015, Viet Nam is the one with high achievements in completion of roadmap despite its limited resources. On political-security field, Viet Nam and other ASEAN countries are implementing the remaining objectives of the APSC Blueprint, including receiving, hosting and taking measures considered to be difficult due to sensitivity and complexity. Viet Nam has proactively realized initiatives such as establishing direct communication lines among the defense ministers of ASEAN countries; hosting the ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMF), and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF); stepping up cooperation between ASEAN and its partners in preventing and effectively resolving challenges to security, maritime safety, climate change, water resources security, natural disasters, Ebola epidemics. The National Assembly, socio-political organizations and the people of Viet Nam have joined in diversified activities of relevant mechanisms.
Economically, Viet Nam is one of the three countries with the highest rate in the realization of the objectives of the AEC Blueprint with the completion rate of nearly 90%. Viet Nam has been actively participating in negotiations on measures to facilitate trade, investment and services; actively implementing commitments to reduce import tariffs down to between 0% and 5% in line with the ASEAN Agreement on Trade in Goods (for the majority of the tariff lines in the Common Sector category); striving to fulfill commitments to remove tariffs on products in the priority integration sectors. Important Free Trade Agreements (FTA) signed with South Korea, the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Free Trade Agreement under negotiation with EU in 2015 contribute to connect and extend benefits of AEC to outside areas.
On socio-cultural field, Viet Nam has pushed up this pillar so that it can supplement and strengthen organic cohesion in the Community. Viet Nam has proactively proposed initiatives and supported cooperation in the priority sectors of ASEAN, such as social security, environment, disaster management, climate change and promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers.
During the period of 20 years participating in ASEAN, Viet Nam has contributed to the growth of ASEAN, confirming its image and reputation as an active, proactive and responsible member. After 2015, ASEAN will start a new phase of development with an environment of peace and security in the region, a single common market and unified production, a sharing, caring, and responsible community committed to the people. Therefore, in order to further uphold the role and position of Viet Nam in the region and the world as well as to strengthen the strong and firm growth of the community, with the support of the member states, Viet Nam continues to contribute to consolidate solidarity and unity within ASEAN and enhance building towards a common voice on regional issues; bring into play ASEAN's central role in building regional architecture based on common standards of international law, and principles, values, and standards of conduct of ASEAN, actively participate in building the post-2015 ASEAN Community Vision, and identify priorities for ASEAN cooperation in the next 10 years.
Along with the renovation process and comprehensive international integration, Viet Nam's effort to participate in extensive and more effective cooperation will contribute to the realization of a strong and cohesive ASEAN Community for development, and for the happiness of the people of ASEAN, peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.
(1) AEC is the key for Viet Nam to reducing the burden of trade deficit, http://www.doanhnhansaigon.vn/thoi-su-trong-nuoc/aec-la-chia-khoa-de-viet-nam-giam-ganh-nang-nhap-sieu/1080787/, 17 April 2014
(2) Kishore Mahbubani & Rhoda Severino: “ASEAN: The way forward”
This article was published on Communist Review No 873 (July 2015)