ASEAN Talking on "Outlook on Viet Nam's Chairmanship of ASEAN: Hopes and Expectations" which was held on Tuesday, December 3, 2019 at The Habibie Center was covered in The Jakarta Post's article on 'Vietnam to champion 'cohesive' ASEAN.' Read below for the full article:

Vietnam to champion 'cohesive' ASEAN

Indonesia hopes summitry will remain in Jakarta despite Vietnam chairmanship

The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

Vietnam is likely to devote its full attention to ASEAN when it takes up the chairmanship of the bloc in 2020, in what international relations experts believe will be a challenging year for ASEAN unity in the face of global economic headwinds and a more assertive China.

Next in line to chair the 10-nation bloc, Hanoi was pushing for a more "cohesive and responsive' ASEAN next year, setting the tone for the contestation of a decades-long dispute in the South China Sea, international relations expert Aleksius Jemadu said on Tuesday.

The Pelita Harapan University scholar argued that a more cohesive ASEAN would serve as a platform for Vietnam to increase its bargaining power in negotiations for a final draft of the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, which is currently being negotiated among ASEAN countries and China.

"Vietnam is committed to regional cooperation as an important platform to deal with the great powers; [...] it is going to [do its utmost to] make its chairmanship successful in dealing with geopolitical concerns partly to do with the rise of China," he said during a discussion hosted by The Habibie Center in Jakarta.

The COC is a set of norms and guidelines that will govern activities in the South China Sea, a disputed body of water claimed by China and a few other countries, including Vietnam.

The two sides were involved in a number of skirmishes this year, further straining testy ties. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, which is one of the world's busiest global maritime shipping routes.

Vietnam officially announced its plans for the ASEAN chairmanship at the 35th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok last month. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc noted in his speech during the handover ceremony that Vietnam had adopted "A Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN" as the theme for its 2020 chairmanship.

He said the country wished to foster a "sustainable cohesiveness" among member states by consolidating unity, increasing economic connectivity, promoting shared values and a common identity, improving ASEAN's efficiency and improving ties with dialogue partners.

Aleksius said Vietnam's theme for next year indicated intent to restore ASEAN unity in the face of growing Chinese influence in the region. But Vietnam has got its work cut out for it.

"Vietnam's assertive policy as a claimant in the South China Sea is hampered by the pragmatic attitude of other claimants, such as the Philippines and Brunei," he said, while also noting China's strong economic influence over neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

The ASEAN chair is by tradition expected to show restraint and place the region's interests before its own.

Indonesia, he added, was equally reluctant to step up as a de facto leader for the region, with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo prioritizing domestic concerns over geopolitical strategy.

However, Vietnam should be confident enough to perform its duties as ASEAN chair with its stable national leadership and the good work ethic of its people, as well as its proven capacity as a quick learner when it comes to competing in the global economy, said Teuku Rezasyah, international relations professor from Padjadjaran University.

In the midst of a slowing global economy, Vietnam has emerged as an outlier among the developing economies of Asia, having successfully weathered the economic headwinds exacerbated by an ongoing trade war between China and the United States.

According to the World Bank, Vietnam recorded 7 percent gross domestic product growth in 2018, outpacing its ASEAN brethren. "It is well above the region's average of 4 percent," Rezasyah said.

The World Bank projects that, in the medium-term, Vietnam's economic outlook would remain positive even as the prospects for other economies like Indonesia had been slashed.

Vietnam takes over the chairmanship from Thailand, with plans to host as many as 300 meetings and activities, Viet Nam News reports. The most important of those meetings are the ASEAN Summits that are slated for April and November, as well as the 41st General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) in August.

In view of Vietnam's chairmanship next year, Indonesia is calling for the ASEAN meetings to be held in Jakarta, arguing that the newly expanded ASEAN Secretariat building would be able to better accommodate the activities of member states.

"If there are more meetings [held] in Jakarta, we're hopeful [it] could improve coordination," said Ade Padmo Sarwono, Indonesia's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

[This article was first published in The Jakarta Post on 5 December 2019 and can be found at:]

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