A Cambodian Prominent Scholar Shares Insight on 36th ASEAN Summit

AKP Phnom Penh, June 24, 2020 —

The 36th ASEAN Summit is going to take place on June 26, 2020 under the theme “Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN”.

“Cohesive” represents the idea of upholding the unity, solidarity and internal strength of ASEAN, increasing economic connectivity, deepening the ASEAN values and identities, and enhancing the efficiency of the bloc’s apparatus and promoting ASEAN’s partnerships with the global community.

“Responsive” reflects the needs of ASEAN to increase its proactiveness, creativeness and responsiveness to opportunities and challenges deriving from global and regional situation.

In this context, AKP’s reporters sat down by electronic media with Dr. Chheang Vannarith, President of the leading think tank in Cambodia, the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), to get his perspective on the progress as well as challenges facing ASEAN in building its Socio-Cultural Community.

AKP: What is ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community?

Dr. Chheang Vannarith : The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) is the third pillar of the ASEAN Community. It focuses on a wide range of cross-cutting issues from sustainable development to public health and disaster management and emergency response, from public awareness and identity building to the protection of the rights and dignity of migrant workers and the promotion of gender equality.

AKP: What have been achieved so far?

Dr. Chheang Vannarith : Since the 35th ASEAN Summit in 2019, the implementation of the 109 strategic measures of the ASCC is on track, in which 25 percent of the 954 activities has been completed, 48 percent are ongoing, and 25 percent to be implemented.

This year marks the year of ASEAN Identity. ASEAN has been rolling out various regional and national activities to promote a sense of identity and belonging. The ASEAN Ministers of Culture and Arts have worked on the Narrative of the ASEAN Identity.

It is notable that ASEAN is developing the ASEAN Gender Mainstreaming Strategic Framework which is expected to be finalised sometimes this year. This would further promote gender equality in ASEAN.

Moreover, ASEAN has taken a proactive role in building the synergies and complementarities between the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development (SDGs) is an important area of ASEAN’s external relations.

AKP: What are the roles of Vietnam as the rotating chair of ASEAN this year?

Dr. Chheang Vannarith : Vietnam, as the ASEAN Chair this year, has prioritised human resources development, particularly the establishment of the ASEAN TVET Council (Technical and Vocational Education and Training). The ASEAN Labour, Education, and Economic Ministers are involved in this.

ASEAN leaders are going to adopt the ASEAN Declaration on Human Resources Development for the Changing World of Work at the 36th ASEAN Summit. It aims to promote lifelong learning and prepare the region’s human resources to become adaptable to technological advancements and innovation.

Amid the combat against the Covid-19 pandemic, sectoral cooperation on healthcare has become more critical. Vietnam has organised a series of meetings on public health, including the special ASEAN Summit and ASEAN Plus Three Summit on Covid-19 pandemic.

Moreover, Vietnam has also promoted regional cooperation on social work, marine environment, and empowerment of women.

AKP: What are the main challenges facing ASEAN in building its socio-cultural community?  

Dr. Chheang Vannarith : Building an ASEAN common identity is a long journey. It needs serious political will and commitment. ASEAN needs to focus more on action and delivery, not just dialogue. We need to be aware that the legitimacy and relevance of ASEAN chiefly rely on the level of the trust and participation of the ASEAN people in this inter-governmental organisation.

Lack of leadership, institutional capacity and resources is the key constraint of ASEAN in fulfilling its tasks to deliver concrete results on the ground.

AKP: How to build a truly people-driven and people-centred ASEAN?

Dr. Chheang Vannarith: It is still a long journey ahead before ASEAN could become a truly people-driven and people-centred community. Elitist behaviour being practiced by some ASEAN leaders, including those working at the ASEAN Secretariat, does not help promote a people-centred ASEAN. Therefore, some policy makers need to radically change their leadership style and mindset in order to engage the ASEAN people more effectively.

ASEAN is at an inflection point. On one hand, it is facing mounting pressures and challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic and the US-driven Cold War. On the other hand, the ASEAN people have not been fully empowered and enabled to take part in the regional community building process.

Therefore, responsibility to implement and deliver should be the focus of ASEAN Community building process. We have so many statements and declarations, but with limited implementation on the ground. ASEAN needs to walk the talk.

Dr. Chheang Vannarith (Photo: AVI)

By Heng Panha