Vietnam will virtually host the 36th annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from Hanoi today. The
Vietnam will virtually host the 36th annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from Hanoi today.
The meeting, which was originally scheduled for April but postponed due to COVID-19, will focus on the multilateral coordination of economic and border re-openings, a mid-term review of the ASEAN 2015–25 Community Building Blueprints, and friction in the South China Sea. China’s recent maritime overreach, which has included the militarisation of artificial islands within some of the world’s most lucrative sea lanes, will likely take centre stage as member states negotiate a long-overdue code of conduct.
Major powers, both internal and external, have proposed alternative regional frameworks that could undermine the collaborative culture that the ten ASEAN members have fostered since the mid-1970s. The issue of Myanmar’s alleged genocide against the Rohingya people could likewise damage the credibility of the association, which has adhered to a much-criticised principle of internal non-interference.
Expect Vietnam’s chairmanship to bode well for multilateral COVID-19 response efforts in the medium-term, as Hanoi has repeatedly emphasised the importance of ASEAN solidarity. However, persistent finger-pointing between the US and China over the pandemic’s origin could divide loyalties, as both are critical trade partners of member states. A lack of progress on the maritime front could permanently shift the geopolitical status quo in China’s favour, while disjointed COVID-19 re-openings could erode ASEAN’s regional status.
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