The 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM 51) took place in the context of complex changes in the global and regional situation, including growing competition between major economies, unpredictable developments in the Korean Peninsula and the East Sea, global protectionism trends, and a decline in trade. The foreign ministers affirmed the association’s central role in maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the region and worldwide.
The ministers discussed orientations and measures to build the ASEAN Community, develop the Master Plan on building an ASEAN Community Vision 2025, and enhance ASEAN’s capability to deal with emerging challenges. They also talked about ways to strengthen solidarity and consolidate ASEAN’s central role in the region and its relations with partners, accelerate the introduction of norms of conduct in the region, including the draft code of conduct (COC) in the East Sea between ASEAN and China.
Addressing the opening ceremony, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that with a large membership and efforts to promote cooperation, especially economic linkages, tighten relations with partners and form diverse regional dialogue forums, ASEAN has contributed significantly to the formation of an open, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture, helping ensure peace, security and stability in the region.
PM Lee Hsien Loong appealed to ASEAN member countries to send a clear signal of trade liberalization and economic integration commitments. He expressed hope that negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement will be completed later this year, despite continuing US efforts to pursue unilateralism and trade protectionism. The Singaporean leader believes ASEAN needs to further support rules-based multilateral trade and work with like-minded partners to increase cooperation.
Leading the Vietnamese delegation to the AMM 51, Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh acknowledged the multifaceted progress of cooperation among ASEAN members and between ASEAN and its partners. Singapore’s suggestion to build a self-reliant and innovative ASEAN is suitable to Vietnam’s priorities regarding ASEAN during the current period. Three Vietnamese cities, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, have joined the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. Vietnam has joined ASEAN’s efforts to promote regional linkages and the application of Industry 4.0 technologies, as well as to strengthen the bloc’s resilience.
In the context of rapid and hard-to-predict changes in the region and the world, Deputy PM Pham Binh Minh said ASEAN should attach greater importance to intraregional cooperation and take specific measures to facilitate regional trade and investment, along with efforts to narrow the development gap and promote connectivity. Other ASEAN members expressed support for Vietnam’s views.
Sharing the meeting’s outcome with the media, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Quoc Dung said ASEAN had incorporated proposals by its partners like India, Australia and the Republic of Korea without significantly affecting internal regulations.
Most partners shared ASEAN’s idea on the significance of keeping order in line with international law and the support for multilateral mechanisms, including the World Trade Organization. They affirmed their close coordination in finalizing RCEP negotiations and the ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), as well as efforts to balance the benefits of all parties.
ASEAN foreign ministers also discussed trade with the US, indicating that their countries recorded surpluses in trade in goods with the US but faced deficits in trade in services with this market. While US investment generates jobs in ASEAN, the ministers believe ASEAN investment can also create plenty of jobs in the US.
ASEAN and some of its partners expressed an interest in new free trade agreements (FTAs), such as the one with Canada, and in resuming negotiations on complex deals, such as the one with the EU (among ASEAN members, only Singapore and Vietnam have joined bilateral FTAs with the EU).
The foreign ministers also met with key partners from the region, such as Japan and China, hailing Vietnam’s role as
the coordinator for the ASEAN-India relationship over the past three years. On the occasion of the AMM 51, Vietnam
assumed responsibility as the coordinator for ASEAN – Japan relations in the 2018-2021 period.
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