1. For the first time in more than half a century, our ASEAN Summit has been held virtually. The recent 73rd World Health Assembly and various other major international meetings were also held on the cyber-networks that link our world. This reflects the reality that the ways we conduct our work must now change, due to not only the advances of science and technology, but also the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which broke out and quickly became widespread from the beginning of this year, has swept away the achievements that humankind had accumulated for years, deprived and threatened the lives of millions. A World Bank report on 8 June projected that the global economy would experience a serious decline with a 5.2 percent contraction in global GDP. Per-capita income would drop by 3.6%. Seventy to a hundred million people would fall into extreme poverty, and the risk of social instability would mount. More than 40% of all manufacturing industries and business sectors across countries are being directly affected by lockdown and restrictions imposed for disease control.
The pandemic is fanning the flames of dormant challenges within the political, economic and social environment of the world and in each region. International institutions and international law are being seriously challenged. Strategic friction among the major powers are exposing themselves and escalating. While the entire world is stretched thin in the fight against the pandemic, irresponsible acts and acts in violation of international law are still taking place, affecting the environment of security and stability in certain regions, including in our region.
The strong advances of science and technology and the digital transformation taking place around the globe present both opportunities and challenges to countries, especially the developing ones. Social conflicts stemming from social disparities, discrimination and stigma have deteriorated due to the pandemic, further widening the divide within countries.
In such context, countries need to uphold the spirit of solidarity, cooperation and the sense of responsibility towards the international community. The role and mission of major countries, and of multilateral and regional organizations have become more prominent than ever.
2. ASEAN is pursuing the theme of Cohesive and Responsive amidst volatilities in the regional and global landscape. 5 years since the establishment of the Community, we are now standing before the opportunities and challenges generated by the global geo-strategic shift and the impacts of COVID-19. Against that backdrop, our ASEAN Community has well displayed its mettle. Our unity has given us the strength to effectively harness the opportunities and rise above those challenges.
In the early months of this year, COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on the economy and society of ASEAN member states. It pains us to witness the suffering of tens of thousands of families whose loved ones passed away due to the disease. We empathize with the damage and difficulties endured by hundreds of thousands of disrupted businesses and millions of workers deprived of their livelihood, particularly those in the tourism and service sectors. Yet we shall not falter!
ASEAN has taken timely actions as a responsive and cohesive Community. ASEAN’s health emergencies response network and cooperation with partners were activated from the very first days. ASEAN countries have engaged in active information and experience sharing, and coordination in disease control. Thanks to the highest of political commitment and a cohesive and comprehensive approach at the national and regional level, ASEAN as a whole, has embodied the fortitude of a united and cohesive group, full of sharing and caring.
Let me thank you, ASEAN leaders and ASEAN partners, who have joined their hands with Viet Nam – the ASEAN chair – in the collective response against the pandemic, especially the strong commitments you have pledged at the Special ASEAN and APT Summits on COVID-19 in April.
Despite the complex developments of the pandemic, the ASEAN members have essentially kept the situation under control. Compared to the global average, we are enjoying a high proportion of recoveries over total confirmed cases. Fatalities are low and the rate of fatality is dropping. For many days now, in several ASEAN countries, there has been no new case of community transmission. While slower growth rates are projected for this year, ASEAN economies are expected to sustain stability.
3. In the latter half of 2020, the heavy burden rested upon the governments of ASEAN members and upon us as the leaders is to lead ASEAN out of this period of adversity. The successful completion of this task will stand as a testament to the lasting values and vitality of our Resilient and Dynamic Community.
I expect that the 36th ASEAN Summit will be an occasion for ASEAN member states to reassert our spirit of solidarity, our strong political will and commitment to rise above the adversities of the pandemic and keep forging ahead. On the one hand, we need to maintain good control over the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other, we should promptly repair its damage, and revitalize our economy and resume our economic development. This should be coupled with efforts to realize the set targets for ASEAN cooperation and integration of this year.
At this Summit, we will discuss a comprehensive post-pandemic recovery plan for ASEAN, and hasten the implementation of new initiatives, including the creation of the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund, the building of an ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, and the establishment of an ASEAN Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Public Health Emergencies.
We will conduct the mid-term review of the implementation of the Blueprints under the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, provide feedback on a post-2025 ASEAN Community Vision, and improve the efficiency of ASEAN work by evaluating the enforcement of the ASEAN Charter.
ASEAN will also actively engage the various sectors and stakeholders in society in the process of building a People-Oriented and People-Centered Community.
Today, we will have the first-ever Special Session on Women's Empowerment in the Digital Age. This is a strong message as to ASEAN's commitment to promoting gender equality and enhancing women's role and contribution in social life. The session is also a concrete way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on Gender Equality. We will also have useful interfaces with the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), Youth representatives, and the businesses of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC) on this occasion.
The efforts to strengthen connectivity and promote equitable and sustainable development of ASEAN these past years will continue to be bolstered during this year. Such initiatives as the ASEAN Smart Cities’ Network and Connecting the Connectivities need to proceed effectively and extensively. In addition, we should also pay due attention to enhancing the complementarities between sub-regional cooperation, including the Mekong sub-region, and ASEAN agenda, in terms of the sustainable management and use of water resources.
As an open community and a partner for sustainable peace and development of the international community, ASEAN will tirelessly seek to expand and deepen its equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with our partners. ASEAN is advancing ties with the United Nations in 2020 – when both Indonesia and Viet Nam are non-permanent members of the UNSC and are actively contributing to the UN’s efforts to maintain peace, security and development. We are strongly committed to economic liberalization and integration, and are determined to quickly conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
To uphold ASEAN’s centrality in the region, we have been improving our mechanisms for dialogue, cooperating to build trust, and reinforcing an open, transparent and rules-based order. At the same time, ASEAN will continue to promote and uphold rules and norms of conduct, advance the relations among countries in the region in accordance with the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). ASEAN observes and promotes the full and strict compliance to the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and is making every effort to establish an effective Code of Conduct (COC) in line with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Ladies and gentlemen,
4. The common denominator of shared interest, which has brought the ASEAN members together over the last five decades, has multiplied in the wake of adversity and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of ASEAN's mettle as a maturing community.
I am deeply confident that after every storm and typhoon, the stalks of padi rice on the logo of ASEAN will grow tighter-knit, and from it more grains of rice will spring forth, filled with the love, care and solidarity that define our big ASEAN family.
At this Summit, I look forward to the adoption of the ASEAN Leaders' Vision Statement on a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN: Rising above Challenges and Sustaining Growth. This shall be the compass for ASEAN to move ever confidently forward.
In this spirit, I declare the 36th ASEAN Summit open.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I wish you good health and many successes.
Photo Cr.: ASEAN Vietnam 2020