ASEAN Summit 34 and Efforts to Ensure Regional Peace and Security
The 34th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and related conferences will be held in Bangkok, Thailand (June 20-23, 2019) with many expectations on determination of the parties in strengthening solidarity and coordination in response to challenges to firmly maintain peace, stability and development in the region. Accordingly, with the aim of promoting cooperation, building consensus, this year's conference is organized with the theme "Partners for Sustainable Development". One of the important issues that the Conference discussed was the adoption of the first draft of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) and aims to complete this draft within 3 years.
The impact of commercial warfare and the commencement of protectionism
The commercial warfare and mutual retaliation measures of related parties have created an ideal environment for trade protectionism to rise, darkening the prospects of all economies in the world. This is also the topic that will be interested and discussed by delegates at the summit this time. Southeast Asia with a market of 630 million people and a total GDP of over 3,000 billion USD is expected to continue to be a spotlight in the global economy.
The leaders of ASEAN countries at the Conference will focus on discussing trade and investment guidelines through multilateral cooperation institutions in the region, not to let the risks of trade protectionism affect the region. The general principle featured by ASEAN is its loyalty to the open mechanism and the strengthening of regional cooperation and economic integration to create a solid foundation for a healthy and stable commercial environment in the region.
Working together, joining hands on the sharing benefits is an effective solution in relation to partners. ASEAN and the leaders of the countries participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Partnership (RCEP) agreement have reached the final stage of the negotiation process with a determination to complete this arduous process in late 2019. One another highlight at this conference was the implementation of the first e-commerce agreement of ASEAN that was officially signed. ASEAN's digital economy is being evaluated as the fastest growing region in the world with more than 300 million Internet users. In 2018, ASEAN's digital economy is about USD 50 billion and it is expected that this figure will quadruple to 200 billion USD by 2025, of which e-commerce turnover will reach about 88 billion USD, et cetera. The result mentioned above has been and will continue to open bright prospects for economic cooperation between ASEAN and its partners, minimizing the impacts and consequences of complicated developments and instability of the current global commercial environment.
The issue of peace and security in the region
In terms of politics and security, ASEAN needs to continue to focus on ensuring regional peace and security, maintaining the central role of ASEAN; continue to improve processes and procedures in concurrence with improving the handling capacity when there is an emergency situation and improve the coordination efficiency among agencies. The prerequisite is to maintain solidarity, unity, maintain the central role of ASEAN and strengthen a broad, transparent, statutory, regional-based cooperation structure; fortify collective defense, loyal to multilateral principles to join hands in response to challenges, maintaining regional peace, stability and development. This is considered one of the most important goals of the conference.
The spirit of unity and solidarity to create ASEAN's strength will be demonstrated in discussions on solutions to coordinate the existing security challenges in the region. In the current situation, the regional order based on rules is a solid guarantee for ASEAN's stability and development. However, this order has recently been subjected to the pressures of strategic manipulation, enticement and competition among the major countries, including unilateral actions by some relating party. In addition, terrorism, cyber security and climate change issues are emerging as new challenges that threaten the security of the region.
The role of ASEAN countries in the South China Sea issue
The ongoing conflict in the South China Sea has been deemed unworthy. China claims the entire sovereignty over the South China Sea according to the nine-dashed line but the legal value of the claim is rejected by the international jurisdiction of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea Law. However, China has changed the control in the South China Sea by building many permanent artificial islands on the Spratly Islands and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the United States avoids fighting China's actions (under the Obama’s administration) or reacting inconsistently (under the Trump’s administration).
Last May, a group of American party MPs submitted a bill to punish illegal activities in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The bill requires the government to confiscate property in the United States, withdraw or not grant visas to anyone involved in "activities or policies that threaten peace, security and stability" in the South China Sea. The bill also requires the US Secretary of State to report to the congress every six months, which identifies Chinese individuals or companies involved in construction or development project in disputed areas in the South China Sea. Proposed activities are land reclamation, island construction, lighthouse or mobile information infrastructure construction, et cetera.
With the South China Sea issue, not only countries within the ASEAN region, ASEAN partners must join hands to create a favorable environment for dialogue, cooperation and build trust in the South China Sea to become a sea of peace, cooperation and development, including negotiations for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). After ASEAN and China reached a single agreement on COC negotiations, at the 33rd ASEAN Conference, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang commented that China will continue its efforts with ASEAN to complete the COC within the next 3 years. The determination of the parties to push forward negotiations on COC has made progress towards building a set of rules that contribute to maintaining peace, stability, freedom of navigation and aviation in the South China Sea. By contrast, the upcoming negotiation process is still arduous, requiring each ASEAN member to be determined and continue to be consistent with the unified position of the whole group, in order to achieve the target of an effective, practical and international law-based COC, especially the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982.
The situation in the field is still complicated, causing concerns and impacts that are not conducive to stability in the region. While waiting for the COC to be finalized, the parties should consistently implement the principle agreed upon in ASEAN on the promotion of international law and the Law of the Sea Convention 1982 in the peaceful settlement of disputes and restrain, not to use or threatening to use force, non-militarization, not complicating the situation, strengthening trust, actively building an effective, substantive COC and continuing to take seriously and fully Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Opportunities and challenges still exist, in each specific issue or field there may be different views, but the strength of solidarity is maintained and promoted by ASEAN as a driving force for the organization with 10 Southeast Asian countries continue to play a central role in initiating and leading regional multilateral mechanisms.
And Vietnam's rising position
For Vietnam, many international scholars reckon that in this year the country will especially attract support in meeting sessions for the reason that Vietnam is not only focusing on ASEAN internal issues like most other countries in Southeast Asia but also have other concerns about issues outside the region. The position of Vietnam has increased significantly from the APEC summit in Da Nang in late 2017, and especially after being elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the term of 2020- 2021 (June 7, 2019), Vietnam will show its growing role and position in ASEAN, promoting soft diplomacy and stressing that Vietnam perseveres in pursuing international integration. In addition, Vietnam will take over the role of ASEAN's rotating Chairman in 2020, so it has practical significance for this country's position both in the region and in the world in the forthcoming period. This is also an opportunity for Vietnam to show the role of a host, a test for maturity; is a great opportunity to uphold Vietnam's ability to lead the ASEAN Community in ensuring a peaceful and stable environment to grow together.