Since becoming a member of ASEAN 25 years ago, Vietnam has developed into an important member of the group and has significantly contributed to elevating the bloc’s position and consolidating the centrality of ASEAN within the region.
Starting as an outsider
Flag-raising ceremony on July 28, 1995 afternoon, Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei), marking Vietnam's official admission to ASEAN (Photo: VNA)
Vietnam was officially admitted to ASEAN on July 28, 1995, during a solemn ceremony held in Brunei which ultimately paved the way for the country to become closely integrated into the region and the world.
“We made a correct and timely decision, taking into account the trend of globalisation,” recalled former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam. “Joining ASEAN, we vowed to fulfil the group’s commitment to strengthening co-operation for the sake of development in each country and the whole region.”
Ahead of joining the group, Vietnam was forced to overcome numerous difficulties and remove barriers in order to be permitted to become part of the bloc. The most challenging obstacle was suspicion from the founding members of the group with regards to Vietnam. At the time the United States had imposed an embargo on the nation, while ASEAN founders such as the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand were close allies of the US.
Such suspicion was only dispelled after the US lifted its 19-year-long embargo in 1994 and established diplomatic ties with the country the following year. The normalisation of diplomatic ties with the global power served to open the door for Vietnam to join ASEAN, although there were still differences that needed to be resolved by both sides.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan says only unity and cooperation can generate strength to drive the group forward
“I thought the time of suspicion and hostility no longer existed. From now on, all seven ASEAN members were on the same boat to jointly weather the storm.”
According to the veteran diplomat, ahead of the country joining the regional group, several Southeast Asian countries had been embroiled in the Vietnam War and they had voiced their strong support for the US embargo against Vietnam after the country launched a campaign to stop the Khmer Rouge and save the Cambodian people from genocide. By permitting it to join the group, member states put forward the notion that only unity and co-operation are factors capable of generating sufficient strength that can drive the group forward.
Becoming a proactive and responsible member
Once the country had become an ASEAN member, it was later able to persuade member states to admit Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. This was also a goal that ASEAN has long pursued in its quest to build a unified bloc that brings together all 10 countries in Southeast Asia.
With more members to be added moving forward, ASEAN was keen to mark the start of a new era of substantial intra-co-operation, therefore ending decades of conflict and confrontation whilst simultaneously removing barriers toward building a Southeast Asian region of peace, stability, and prosperity.
Vietnam has left an impression after hosting the sixth ASEAN Summit in 1998 - three years folowing its admission to the group (Photo: VNA)
Despite possessing little experience and limited resources, the country successfully organised the event, leaving a positive impression on all member states. The summit also adopted the Hanoi Action Program, one of the nation’s most important contributions, setting out many specific measures and orientations aimed at boosting the Association’s development and co-operation in the six subsequent years and towards Vision 2020. The summit also saw members agree to admit Cambodia as the 10th member of the bloc in April 1999, finally realising the idea of a 10-strong ASEAN.
Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung notes Vietnam has gradually made a substantial contribution to ASEAN
“From listening and learning at the beginning, Vietnam gradually took an active part in and made a substantial contribution to the group’s affairs,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung, who is also head of SOM ASEAN of Vietnam. “This was evident by Vietnam’s hosting of the Sixth ASEAN Summit in 1998, and ASEAN Chairmanships in 2000 to 2001, 2010, and 2020.”
Moreover, Vietnamese ministries and agencies have all widely participated in and made an active contribution to all co-operation areas of ASEAN. The country has maintained a leading role in a number of areas, especially in terms of promoting solidarity and unity within ASEAN. This has seen the country develop into an important supporter for many members, voicing its position on many issues which are supported and respected by other countries.
In conclusion, Vietnam has played a significant role in enhancing the position of ASEAN as a regional power bloc while simultaneously consolidating the centrality of the group within the region.