Thailand passes sustainability torch to Vietnam
SPECIAL REPORT: Vice foreign minister urges more intra-Asean trade
The 35th Asean Summit and Related Summits culminated on Monday with the handover of the Asean chairmanship to Vietnam. Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha handed a gavel, the symbol of the bloc's leadership, to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and hugged each other cordially.
However, there is still a long journey ahead. Gen Prayut stressed that Thailand has promoted Asean sustainability in all aspects this year and urged Vietnam to take the idea forward.
Vice Foreign Minister Vijavat Isarabhakdi asserted that the Sustainability of Things (SOT), or sustainability in all dimensions, will bolster regional security, economic growth and social development.
Mr Vijavat encouraged Asean to reinforce strategic trust among members and with external partners to maintain regional peace and stability.
"The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia [TAC] is a key instrument that Asean already has in hand. Its core principles serve as regional norms for the conduct of peaceful relations in the region which, in our view, can be further promoted across the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions," he recently told the 8th Eria Editors' Roundtable on Asean Vision 2040: Towards Bolder and Stronger Asean Community.
The event was co-hosted in Bangkok by the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (Eria) and the Bangkok Post.
Mr Vijavat stressed that Asean has to maintain its centrality in the regional architecture in the changing geopolitical landscape.
"It is reaffirmed in the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific adopted at the 34th Asean Summit. It helps to increase Asean's strategic value-added in the region through the promotion of constructive engagement, the ability of Asean to serve as a bridge between major powers and with other external partners, and the promotion of win-win practical cooperation in four main areas, namely, maritime cooperation, connectivity, sustainable development and economic cooperation," he said.
Mr Vijavat said Asean can enhance sustainable economic growth by concluding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
"Once consummated, it will be the largest economic bloc in the world. The completion of the Asean Single Window, which is a platform for facilitating trade through faster clearance of cargo and release of shipments, would also greatly enhance our economic integration," he said.
According to the joint leaders' statement on RCEP, 15 countries concluded the text-based negotiation for 20 chapters and market access issues and tasked legal scrubbing to start ahead of signing next year. They will continue to attempt to resolve outstanding issues with India.
Nevertheless, Mr Vijavat said the bloc needs to promote intra-Asean trade.
"There is considerably more room to grow in this respect as the level of intra-Asean trade currently stands at around a quarter of Asean's total trade," he said.
Moreover, Mr Vijavat urged the bloc to promote a digital ecosystem and enhance connectivity.
"This can be done through the effective implementation of the Asean Digital Integration Framework Action Plan 2019-2025 and the Policy Guideline on Digitalisation of Asean Micro Enterprises.
"By connectivity, we mean in all aspect, that is, physical, institutional and regulatory, and people-to-people," he said.
Mr Vijavat said Asean has mainstreamed sustainable development into the regional development cooperation agenda by promoting complementarities between the Asean Community Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
He said Asean also launched the Asean Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue in Thailand at the 35th Asean Summit.
"It promotes research and capacity building on sustainable development and serves as a platform for policy dialogue for Asean members and between Asean and its external partners," he said.
Mr Vijavat encouraged the bloc to localise home-grown knowledge and approaches to contribute to sustainable development.
"Thailand is firmly convinced that sustainable development and the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy [SEP] of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, are compatible and mutually-reinforcing. The SEP advocates a balanced way of living, based on the principles of moderation, reasonableness and self-immunity," he said.
People at heart of region
Mr Vijavat said human capital development and human security are important to the community.
"Asean pays particular attention to the development of our people in all age groups. This is why we have resolutely worked together and with our partners in addressing malnutrition and stunting, especially in our children, promoting skills mobility and development for our workforce, and providing infrastructure and services for our ageing population," he said.
He added that the 35th Asean Summit saw the inauguration of the Asean Centre for Social Work and Social Welfare and the Asean Centre for Active Ageing and Innovation.