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[Vietnam-US relations] Vietnam helps shape US-ASEAN Strategic Partnership: Carl Thayer
Linh Pham 21:44, 2021/10/28
Vietnam matters to the US-ASEAN relations for its functions as a leading role, bridge, and active agent in promoting the relationship.

Vietnam, as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has contributed to shaping policy in the relations with the US and in the US-ASEAN Strategic Partnership, Prof. Carl Thayer has said.

In the US-ASEAN relations, Vietnam has played a leading role, a bridge, and an active agent in promoting the development of the relationship, said Southeast Asia regional and Vietnam country specialist who is Emeritus Professor of the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Canberra.

Vietnam’s roles have evolved over time depending on Vietnam’s status in ASEAN, which is demonstrated through the ASEAN Chair in 2020 with its strong role in combating Covid-19 regionally; Country Coordinator for dialogue relations (9 more years until Vietnam become coordinator of relations with the US); ASEAN country coordinator for dialogue relations with India (2015-2018), and two US allies Japan (2018-2021) and South Korea (2021-2024), Prof. Thayer told The Hanoi Times.

 US President Joe Biden joins US-ASEAN live video conference on Oct 26, 2021. Photo: USASEAN Mission

Regarding the US-ASEAN relations over the past time, the Southeast Asia region and Vietnam country specialist said the US is ASEAN’s second largest trade partner and largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI).

In the 45 years of relations, the two sides have established Strategic Partnership for seven years (in 2015). In 2016, they organized the first Special Leaders’ Summit in Sunnylands, California. Between 2017 and 2020, no special summit was held but in 2019, the Mekong-US Partnership was launched.

The relations have been enhanced especially after the US policy shifts towards the Asia-Pacific region, Prof. Thayer said, noting that the 9th US-ASEAN Summit took place in October 2021 with the attendance of President Biden.

Accordingly, they built Plan of Action to Implement Strategic Partnership for 2021-2025, in addition to the active participation in the Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund; the launch of CDC Southeast Asia Regional Office in Hanoi; the US-ASEAN Health Futures Initiative; and expanded engagement transportation, gender equality, women’s empowerment, energy and environment and climate change.

In March 2022, the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy stresses ASEAN-centrality, ASEAN-led mechanisms and role of ASEAN Chair, support for ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific, and ASEAN essential role to regional architecture, Prof. Thayer noted.

Concerning the Special Summit to be held on May 12-13, 2022, Prof. Thayer said it will have practical results because it will follow up the initiatives of the first US-ASEAN Special Leaders’ Summit in Sunnylands in February 2016, and President Biden’s commitment to supporting ASEAN in addressing Covid recovery, mitigating climate change, promoting economic growth and advancing gender equality at the virtual ASEAN-United States Summit in October 2021.

The Special Summit is President Joe Biden’s initiative to demonstrate US commitment to ASEAN, ASEAN-centrality and ASEAN-led mechanisms. These are key themes in his Administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (March 2021) and Indo-Pacific Strategy (February 2022).

According to the professor, the summit agenda would be US engagement with ASEAN on Covid-19 recovery and health security, fighting the climate crisis, stimulating broad-based economic growth, promoting gender equality, deepening people-to-people ties, at the same time, President Biden can announce new funding for his initiatives.

Additionally, sources in Phnom Penh, no doubt reflecting the official views of Cambodia as ASEAN Chair, reported that “sustainable development, maritime collaboration, human capital development, education and people-to-people ties, as well as connectivity and economic engagement” would be discussed.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, as the agency responsible for ASEAN dialogue relations with the US, reported that the event “would discuss pandemic responses, co-operation on health, education and economic recovery, and various regional and global geopolitical challenges.”

He added that the Special Summit is likely to discuss the situation in Myanmar, the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the impact on Southeast Asia and how the US and ASEAN might respond, and finally, the road map ahead for US-ASEAN relations as strategic partners.

Prof. Thayer said the US-ASEAN relations would be good as the Biden Administration will show renewed commitment to ASEAN at the summit in May 2022.

In addition, it meets the goals of Plan of Action to Implement Strategic Partnership, 2021-2025; implement effectively Covid pandemic and other diseases prevention, vaccines availability, and technology transfer, research, and delivery; works on digital connectivity economy, cyber security, infrastructure, and human capital development; and furthermore, make ASEAN even more relevant as part of regional architecture.

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