The 37th summit of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) and related meetings will be held via video link from November 11th to 15th.
Currently headed by Vietnam, its Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc will chair the bi-annual event. The meetings include the ASEAN summit itself as well as the ASEAN-China summit, the 23rd ASEAN-China, Japan and South Korea leaders’ meeting, the 15th East Asia Summit, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit and for the first time the ASEAN women leaders’ summit.
Attendees will discuss regional and international issues of common interest, the process of ASEAN’s community building, the role of ASEAN in the post-COVID-19 era among other topics, said Duong Hoai Nam, vice-spokesperson of the ministry.
The summit is critical as ASEAN is put under test on a slew of different matters. First the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the second such summit to be held under the pandemic after the 36th summit last June. Member-countries have had different strategies and outcomes without much visible coordination.
Second, the summit also comes with underlying controversy on the influence of China. A couple of weeks ago, an ex-Singaporean diplomat raised controversy saying ASEAN should “consider revoking ASEAN membership for Cambodia and Laos for allowing an external power to exert influence on them,” a thinly veiled reference to their proximity with China, referring to the South China Sea maritime dispute. Cambodia has famously refused to publish a joint ASEAN communique condemning China’s attitude back in 2012, while it was chairing the bloc.
Finally, Myanmar will not be able to avoid being put in the spotlight. In an open letter released on November 11th, dozens of current and former lawmakers from across SEA addressed ASEAN leaders personally to urge them to play an active role in resolving the ongoing crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Having just concluded elections, with a fresh 5 year mandate, Myanmar can’t keep avoiding questions from its fellow members on the matter.
On the brighter side, a new free trade agreement is expected to be signed, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Vietnam will conclude the summit by transferring chairmanship of ASEAN to Brunei for the year to come.