COVID-19 Op-ed

Scrutinizing Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairpersonship: Cohesive and Responsive in the Year of Living Dangerously

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Maya DaniaLecturer of
International Development Program
School of Social
Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University, Chiang Rai –

There is a locution accurately portraying what ASEAN
member-states (AMS), under the Chairpersonship of Vietnam, are encountering
at the moment: “living the year dangerously”, cited from an Italian phrase
vivere pericoloso” (Doran, 2020). This year is a
“once-in-a-lifetime” period in the 21st century
decades, when the COVID-19 forced everything and everyone to stop. No one saw
the massive storm to economic and human crisis coming, although the domino
effect reminded governments and people of the 1997 Tom Yum
crisis of Asian financial turmoil (Bangkok Post, 2017). As
the Thai Baht devalued, thousands of businesses in the region were devastated
in a long-term impact, causing a bloodbath in the stock markets and labor
forces. Particularly in Indonesia, in 1998, the country was gradually falling
into a multifaceted financial and political crisis, triggering the most
traumatic riots and human rights violation along with distressing civil
unrest in the country. Back then, the year of 1998 was, too, also, a
vivere pericoloso” for Vietnam in its first experience
as the ASEAN Chair.In mid-July 1995, Vietnam became the seventh member of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). For Vietnam, membership in
ASEAN had pivotal political and security, economic, and social implications
to increase cooperation with multiple players in a regional grouping. As the
Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has adopted a resolution to have more
friends and fewer enemies amid the Cold War (Chauhan, 2013), the country has
been showing assiduous determination in cultivating the solidarity and unity
in ASEAN, and also hard work to secure peace and reconciliation. During its
early membership, Vietnam led efforts to bridge ASEAN country members with
Indochinese bloc and emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in the
region, yet, leaving several notes in national and regional human rights and
freedom unsettled. As such, up to the present day, as two thirds of the
country’s total workforce are employed in the informal labor force, Vietnam
is not party to the conventions protecting the rights of migrant workers and
their families (Huong, 2019), and therefore, informal labors and migrant
workers are not protected by laws and lack health insurance.As the Article 31
of the ASEAN Charter mandated rotation to ASEAN Chairpersonship, in the year
2020, Vietnam holds the third time of chair position after 1998 and 2010
(ASEAN, 2020). Reflecting from how Vietnam played out its chairmanship era,
it is obvious that what is important for Vietnam is regional solidarity and
centrality in engaging with external major powers. After the COVID-19
outbreak began, Vietnam hosted a virtual meeting in ASEAN Special Summit and
ASEAN +3 Special Summit on COVID-19 response on the 14 April 2020, resulting
in the adoption of Declaration of the Special Summit on COVID-19. As the main
coordinator among ASEAN member states, Vietnam emphasized regional
cooperation through measures such as an emergency response fund to combat
public health crisis (ASEAN, 2020). Nevertheless, the Special Summit showed
little attention to regional multilateralism as ASEAN member states continue
to enforce measures against COVID-19 from their own national interest.
Moreover, the call for a Special Summit is ‘a little too late’, especially to
promote regional human rights and social protection to informal labors and
migrant workers as a common priority, considering the regional COVID-19 cases
have soared to more than 20,000 from merely hundreds and shut down people’s
mobility across the region.COVID-19 bears an alarming resemblance to the
Tom Yum Goong crisis. Few manufacturing industries in
the countries will be immune to economic impacts (Williamson,, 2020).
The epidemic has hit ASEAN’s most dependent sector, the service and retail
industries, where millions working in informal sectors lost their jobs and
sources of income. Sending and receiving countries for ASEAN labors migration
have also restricted workers’ mobility, engendering another immense wave of
migrant crisis in the region. The shocks from the outbreak have been really
appalling for ASEAN countries, making informal and migrant workers become the
most vulnerable, if there is still no clear regulation on the protection of
their rights, specifically social security and health.Amidst the pandemic
epoch, the Tom Yum Goong crisis that once created year
of “vivere pericoloso” was supposed to be a strong
message for “an immediate” response for cohesive and responsive strategies
for ASEAN to oversee the domino effects of a global crisis on an already
fragile region. Yet, there has been no rights-based strategies to protect
vulnerable populations, nor implementation of accessible public health to
protect people across borders.References:ASEAN Organization.
(2020). Declaration of the Special ASEAN Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019
(COVID-19). Retrieved from:
Organization. (2020). ASEAN Chair. Retrieved from:
Post. (2017). 1997 meltdown ‘unheeded lesson’. Retrieved from:,
Sadhavi. (2013). Vietnam’s Role in ASEAN. Retrieved from:,
Will. (2020). Indonesia and COVID-19: Living Dangerously Once Again .
Retrieved from:,
Ngo. (2018). Vietnam (in Human Rights Outlook in Southeast Asia). SHAPE-SEA
Secretariat (IHRP – Mahidol University)Truong, Mai. (2020). Vietnam’s
Communist Party Finds a Silver Lining in COVID-19. Retrieved from:,
Chris. et. al. (2020). Economics & Country Risk Research &
Analysis. Retrieved from:

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