After taking over the Chairmanship of the ASEAN and being a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, the Vietnamese leadership has spearheaded many initiatives in the midst of challenging times emerging from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Image source: Financial Times

A unique opportunity has bestowed upon Vietnam to play a leading role in regional as well as in international bodies. On January 1, 2020, Vietnam commenced the Chairmanship of ASEAN for the third time; the earlier being in 1998 and 2010. On the same day, Hanoi began its two-year term (2020–2021) as a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council after it was elected with a ‘landslide vote’ for the second time; the first being in 2008–2009.

Vietnam’s theme for its ASEAN Chairmanship is “Cohesive and Responsive,” and has called for “active support and assistance from other members and partners in realizing the spirit of ASEAN Year 2020”. [1] Among the many important issues during the Chairmanship, Vietnam has highlighted at least four: (a) enhancing ASEAN’s unity and solidarity; (b) boosting its regional connectivity and integration into the world; (c) strengthening its commitment to resolving global issues; and (d) improving its capacity for adapting to and capitalising on the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.[2]

First, under Vietnam’s Chairmanship, ‘ASEAN unity’ was unambiguously displayed after all ASEAN Member States agreed to make reference in the Chairman’s Statement of the 36th ASEAN Summit on June 26, 2020 to Chinese reclamation in disputed islands and features in the South China Sea and military infrastructure buildup in the Parcels and the Spratly Islands. The diplomatic acumen displayed by the Vietnamese foreign policy establishment was exemplary given that all ASEAN Member States were unanimous and least hesitant to convey to China about its assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Second, connectivity infrastructure development has been one of the many key issues that has been on the priority list of nearly all ASEAN Chairmanships in the past and would continue into the future. However, in current times of COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain connectivity has been highlighted. It has come under stress and exposed the vulnerability of regional supply chains. The Hanoi Plan of Action on Strengthening ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic was a seminal display of “ASEAN’s determination to work closely to identify and address trade disruptions, with ramifications, on the flow of essential goods, including food, medicines, and medical and other essential supplies in the region”.[3] This is part of ASEAN’s concerted efforts to not only contain and mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region, but also to strengthen and make supply chains more resilient and less vulnerable to similar challenges in the future.

Third, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Phạm Bình Minh has been in the forefront in times of the pandemic. At the 36th ASEAN Summit in June 2020, it was finally decided to establish the “ASEAN COVID-19 response fund” and develop a “comprehensive recovery framework” and taking initiatives and institute measures to enable “taking the region through the reopening and recovery stages, towards longer-term resilience, preparedness, and competitiveness.”[4]

Fourth, as far as Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies are concerned, ASEAN Chairman’s press statement at the special session on women’s empowerment in the digital age is noteworthy, in which the importance of rapid development in digital transformation and 4IR technologies was underscored.[5] The inclusion of 4IR technologies by Vietnam during its Chairmanship of the ASEAN is innovative and must be pursued. There are now clear trends of widespread digital transformation and 4IR technologies are bringing about radical changes in nearly all facets of human activity. Besides, several national leaders, including Vietnam, have recognised the importance of educating people to use new technologies as also adopting innovative models for economic and technological development. 

At the level of the United Nations, Vietnam’s Non-permanent Member of the UN Security Council is an outcome of its leadership role within the ASEAN as also in many other multilateral fora where its contribution has been noteworthy. H.E. Dang Dinh Quy, head of Vietnam’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, during an interview toVietnam News Agency was unequivocal in his remarks that Vietnam is committed to maintain good relations with the Permanent and Non-permanent Members of the UNSC and “uphold international security and peace, which promotes the spirit of cooperation”. Furthermore, as a Non-permanent Member of the UN Security Council, Vietnam has good prospects to “make concrete achievements that bear the markings of our [Vietnam] country” and so that these are recognised by the international community.

Among the many issues that currently resonate high in the UN are: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; Sustainable Development Goals 2030; and global nuclear disarmament.  Vietnam has applauded the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight the global pandemic and received praises from the WHO for its national response to COVID-19.  Another important responsibility for Vietnam is to showcase the country’s progress on SDG 2030. Vietnam’s “overall score is 71.1 compared to the bloc’s [ASEAN] average score of 65.7 and the country moved up 3 places from 2018 to 54th on the global scale”.[6] Furthermore, Vietnam could also showcase ASEAN’s Member States’ commitment to the SDG along with Indonesia, the other elected member from Southeast Asia in the Non-permanent Members of the UNSC grouping. The SEANWFZ Treaty (Bangkok Protocol) is critical for ASEAN to ensure that Southeast Asia remains free from nuclear proliferation. Vietnam has consistently “stressed the need for confidence-building measures as well as full implementation of non-proliferation obligations” and called upon the nuclear weapon states to sign the Protocol.[7]

Since taking over the two prestigious positions i.e., Chairmanship of the ASEAN and Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, the Vietnamese leadership has spearheaded many initiatives in the midst of challenging times emerging from COVID-19 global pandemic and the US–China trade wars and delivered on the responsibilities entrusted to it. It has marshalled and invested enormous diplomatic capital to contribute to peace and stability in the region and in the world. However, Vietnam must prepare for the ongoing US-China standoff in the South China Sea and prevent these spilling over and threatening “ASEAN Unity”. This would require astute diplomatic skills and maturity from Hanoi, which by all counts are the strong points of Vietnamese diplomacy, and manage tensions in the region.

Views expressed are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.


[1]“Hanoi Plan of Action on Strengthening ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Accessed July 27, 2020. https://asean.org/storage/2020/06/Hanoi-POA.pdf.

[2]“Cohesive and Responsive” chosen as theme for ASEAN Year 2020.” Accessed July 27, 2020. https://vovworld.vn/en-US/news/cohesive-and-responsive-chosen-as-theme-for-asean-year-2020-799024.vov.

[3]“Hanoi Plan of Action on Strengthening ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Accessed July 27, 2020. https://asean.org/storage/2020/06/Hanoi-POA.pdf.

[4]“Chairman’s Statement of the 36th ASEAN Summit.” Accessed July 27, 2020. https://asean.org/storage/2020/06/Hanoi-POA.pdf.

[5]“Chairman’s Press Statement of ASEAN Leaders’ Special Session at the 36th ASEAN Summit on Women’s Empowerment in the Digital Age.” Accessed July 27, 2020. https://asean.org/chairmans-press-statement-asean-leaders-special-session-36th-asean-summit-womens-empowerment-digital-age/.

[6]“Viet Nam Sustainable Development Index 2019.” Accessed July 28, 2020. http://news.chinhphu.vn/Home/Viet-Nam-sustainable-development-index-2019/20197/37089.vgp.

[7]“Upcoming Review Conference Offers Chance to Celebrate ‘Lynchpin’ Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, High Representative Tells Security Council.” Accessed July 28, 2020. https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sc14125.doc.htm.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja
Dr Vijay Sakhuja
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Honorary Distinguished Fellow with CPPR and associated with our Centre for Strategic Studies. Dr. Sakhuja, a former Indian Navy officer, is also former Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. He earned his MPhil and PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He specializes in issues of national security and public policy, particularly in the context of ocean affairs, geopolitics, Climate Change, Arctic, Blue Economy and 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

covid 19
COVID-19 & Beyond
Infographics Articles Reports & Papers Video Podcast In News Reports & Papers