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ASEAN’s prospects in 2022 under Cambodian Chairmanship

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Exactly a decade later Cambodia faces the big question that whether the memory of the past can be erased, given the fact that during the last ASEAN meeting in Cambodia in 2012 the ASEAN communiqué was not released because of strong differences on the issue of South China Sea among various ASEAN claimant states. In the year 2021 after the ASEAN chairmanship of Brunei, Cambodia assumed the charge as the chairman of ASEAN for next year and there are expectations among the ASEAN member countries regarding the future course of action of the organization as such. During the 2021 ASEAN summit there were number of issues which were raised pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, return of democracy in Myanmar, participation of dialogue partners in reviving trade and investment in the region, and realizing the blueprint for ASEAN communities.

During the year 2021 the ASEAN meeting’s theme was “we care, we prepared, we prosper”, and the stress was on regaining the ASEAN community and working on harmonious region with more focus on people. The meeting reflected the desire of the people for maintaining the regional organization’s momentum within the ASEAN and beyond. During this year’s meetings (38th and 39th) the stress was on economic recovery and addressing the aftereffects of COVID-19 pandemic. There was much stress regarding the regional organization’s resilience, peace, security, and social progress. In fact, most of the member countries tried to work on strengthening the ASEAN’s capacities and working on solutions in the wake of economic slowdown because of the pandemic.


Under the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 the stress was on realizing the targets which are been set in the past and this year took note of the achievements in the last decade. The stress was on implementing the provisions of the ASEAN charter and improve the efficiency of the regional organization. Time and again it has been stated that ASEAN centrality is critical for peace and security in the region and therefore dialogue partners should make extra effort to recognize provisions of Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in the current context. The cohesiveness of the organization which was stimulated under the Vietnam chairmanship in 2020 gained support and it is expected that Vietnam whatever was required to support the agenda for future.

The mid-term review of the ASEAN community blueprints, and ASEAN agenda would progress further during Summit in Cambodia in 2022. However, the ASEAN’s Cambodian Summit would be seen with apprehension given the fact that Hun Sen has stated that he would go that extra distance so that the ASEAN summit meetings are held peacefully and there are no domestic protests during that time against ruling party. This year’s ASEAN meeting already took note of the developments in Myanmar and raised apprehensions about the human right violations in the country and the atrocities which have been committed against the pro-democracy protesters.The dialogue partners have also raised concerns regarding developments in Myanmar. In such a context it would be interesting to note how Cambodia manages the domestic upheavals as well as demands from China which in the past has dictated terms to Cambodia on various issues which concern China. One issue which ASEAN is facing is the increasing Chinese assertion in the contested waters of South China Sea. As it has seen in the past the criticism of China was not accepted by the Cambodian Prime minister Hun Sen and therefore the issue of politics and security would shadow ASEAN unity and centrality.


One of the important things which have been achieved by Cambodia in the past was the adoption of the Declaration of Code of Conduct of Parties (DOC) in South China Sea in the year 2002. It would be two decades when the negotiations related to South China Sea have taken place and there is no sign of adoption of Code of Conduct in the contested waters. More importantly, the global community will be looking at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh because it will facilitate better trade and investment opportunities for the three countries namely Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. This region is also seen as a potent competitor against China for shifting of select production and manufacturing facilities to this region. However, Cambodia is seen as increasingly getting into China’s strategic orbit because of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the development of the Ream naval base by the Chinese PLA. Even US investment in Cambodia is suffering because of increased influence of China in Cambodia ‘s political apparatus.


Cambodia ASEAN Summit 2022 is expected to be in person summit and there is attendance likely to be of all the other member states and the dialogue partners as well. The 2022 ASEAN summit meeting would be seen as a precursor to other developments in the  region, particularly in the context of managing pandemics, promoting inter-ASEAN trade and investment, encouraging people to people connectivity, and also undertaking efforts to build digital and financial infrastructure in the region. The region itself is facing various challenges, particularly in the context of adopting measures required for realization of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers among the signatory countries. Therefore, in the year 2022, the summit at Phnom Penh might see the utility of new alliances such as AUKUS and how Cambodia responses to the request of United Kingdom to be the dialogue partner of the organization.

Also, as it has been seen in the year 2016 Cambodia hindered any reference to Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) judgment in favour of Philippines while entertaining Chinese request in this regard. The critical security challenges that the organization faces would again get reflected during the Cambodian Summit and it would be interesting to note whether Cambodia will come out of Chinese shadow and release the joint statement which was missing during the last Cambodia Summit. Invariably, it would also pave the way for ASEAN to emerge as a formidable organization or  be relegated just as a ‘talk shop’. 

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com

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Southeast Asia

Vietnamese PM Chinh visit to Japan: A new era of cyber, space and defence cooperation

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pham minh chinh

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh visited Japan from November 22-25 and discussions about trade, investment, defence, cultural and enhancing political ties took place between the two leaders. The former prime minister of Japan Suga had visited Vietnam in October 2020, and it was his first visit to any foreign country. With the coming of Fumo Kishida new prime minister in Japan, Vietnamese Prime Minister thought it prudent to engage the new political leadership. When recently Kurt Campbell stated that India and Vietnam will be crucial in deciding the fate of Asia and the three countries namely India, Vietnam and Japan have been closely cooperating with one another because of two major factors. The three countries are in the periphery of China and have major stakes in the resolution of the South China Sea dispute. Second, these three economies are promising economies in Asia and are seen to be major harbingers of technology, economic growth and sustainable development. 

The visit of Vietnamese prime minister is primarily seen from the point of view of projecting the need for ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’ and developing close cooperation between Vietnam and Japan. During the visit of Japanese defence minister to Vietnam last year several agreements have been signed between the two sides which included transfer of technology and defence trade between the two sides. Vietnam is facing a few challenges related to trade and investment, growing cases of Covid 19 pandemic, need for modernisation of its armed forces and realising the potential of the regional organisations such as ASEAN .In terms of developing necessary technical acumen for renewable energy sources and facilitating foreign direct investment from Japan were the major agendas for the visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister. 

The Vietnamese Prime Minister visit was his first official visit to Japan. Vietnam is increasingly seen as a middle power which requires support and cooperation from Japanese in areas such as waste management, infrastructure development, developing technology parks, export processing zones and vocational training skills to emerge as one of the engines of economic growth in Southeast Asia. In fact, Japan was the only few countries in Asia with which Vietnam has developed air bubble agreement during COVID-19 to facilitate travel of passengers and businesspeople from the two countries. Given the fact that Vietnam is slowly opening its trade and investment and tourism sector it would be looking for countries in Europe and in Asia to spur development in the country. Japanese tourists are important incoming visitors for Vietnam because of their spending and booking high end resorts and hotels.  

Following the COP- 26 meeting which was held in London there have been huge expectations from the Asian countries to reduce their carbon footprints and look for other viable sources of energy. The visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister explored diverse issues related to politics, security, cultural interactions and development of human resources in Vietnam. The two defence ministers also signed aagreements related to transfer of technology and exports of Japanese defence equipment and weapons to Vietnam. Japan has already embarked on a policy to support littoral countries of South China Sea through patrol boats and fast attack crafts. 

One of the critical areas that Vietnam is looking for is the development of technology and scientific rigour within the country. In this context collaboration with Japanese scientific institutions and academic community would help Vietnam to develop skills and human resources to cater to the industrial revolution 4.0. Also, Vietnam is looking for developing expertise in areas such as machine learning, big data mining, artificial intelligence, underwater systems, developing sustainable development and energy resources in those South China Sea islands so that the soldiers can become self-sufficient in energy and clean water resources. Japan has been looking for alternate sources of investment and developing infrastructure in countries such as Vietnam Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam itself is emerging as a viable alternative to China in the wake of recurring cases of COVID-19 pandemic in China. Japanese investors and entrepreneurs are looking for relocating their businesses and investments. 

There is no denying of the fact that developments in South China Sea are of critical importance both for Vietnam and Japan, and it is expected that the two leaders discussed these issues in detail. The Chinese assertive activities in South China Sea have been deplored by Japan and other allied partners in the past. Vietnam is looking for cooperation with Japan in terms of submarine hunting capabilities and developing acumen for better management of human resources in defence sector. In terms of military cooperation between the two sides there is a lot of potential in terms of maritime surveillance aircraft, fast attack crafts, and coastal radar systems. Also, sonar systems and developing helicopter mounted surveillance systems would and has Vietnamese defence and surveillance capabilities. The two countries signed an agreement on space defence and cyber security. 

One of the important critical areas that the two countries discussed was related to the implementation of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and promoting intra regional trade so that better complementarities could be developed between the two sides. Another important forum where Japan and Vietnam are members is CPTPP and there is speculation that President Joe Biden might be interested in re-joining the grouping. Taiwan and China have expressed interest in joining it, but Japan is in favour of only Taiwan.  In such a context when the two countries are at the crossroads of economic integration and regional economic groupings, it is expected that the two leaders discussed necessary checks and balances so the trade interests of the two countries can be protected while enhancing the integration at the regional level. 

Vietnam is also seen as a probable candidate for the Quad Plus initiative and Japan has been very insistent on engaging the country in a more proactive way. India, Vietnam and Japan could be one trilateral which will bring in a large market, Strong technology fundamentals, unique cultural identities and common strategic concerns acts as glue between the three countries. The development of Vietnam and Japan ties would reconfigure Asian identity and future.      

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Green Volunteering ASEAN: Our common future

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Volunteerism is the voice of the people put into action.  These actions shape and mold the present into a future of which we can all be proud.“ — Helen Dyer

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘volunteerism’ as an act in which a person voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service. People who volunteer in non-profit organizations, for example, are willing to offer their personal services, oftentimes expecting nothing in return. Taking it a step further, what is ‘green volunteering’?

Green volunteering refers to a range of activities which include environmental monitoring, ecological restoration, and educating others about the natural environment. It can come in three forms: practical, fundraising, and administrative.

Practical green volunteering involves environmental volunteers who are involved in habitat management, for example, such as vegetation cutting or removal of invasive species. Fundraising green volunteering involves organizations that raise funds for a particular environmental cause. Finally, administrative green volunteering refers to volunteers who offer their skills and expertise in terms of legal support and public relations, to name a few. In other words, there are many types of green volunteering initiatives that you can take on today.

In the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), which consists of 10 member states, there are plenty of green volunteering initiatives that one can participate in. For instance, in Bali, Indonesia you can become a reef conservation supporter wherein you will work with other volunteers and local communities to restore and protect Bali’s coral reef ecosystems. Meanwhile, in Thailand, you can volunteer in an Elephant Sanctuary and help provide refuge to domesticated elephants that have been rescued from a life of working in zoos or other establishments. Finally, you can also do conservation work in the island of Palawan in the Philippines, wherein you will assist in the restoration of a mangrove swamp.

As reports have shown, several countries in the ASEAN will be among the most to be most significantly impacted by the climate crisis. Rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and declining biodiversity are just a few environmental issues that ASEAN countries are facing. On a bright side, we are also seeing many opportunities when it comes to a sustainable energy transition and sustainable finance, to name a few. It is, indeed, a big set of challenges and opportunities we are facing, which is why we need different people and organizations to work together. Green volunteering in the ASEAN is one great way to contribute towards the sustainability agenda.

Clearly, there are many opportunities to choose from in green volunteering in the ASEAN. As Helen Dyer highlighted, volunteerism is the voice of people put into action. As the climate crisis intensifies across the world, we need to translate our voices into action. One way to do this is by participating in green volunteering work.

International Volunteering Day 2021

The International Volunteering Day (IVD) 2021 is coming this December 5, and what better way to celebrate it by highlighting the initiatives taking place across the globe during the pandemic. In 2020, the United Nations (UN) reported that it had 9,459 volunteers hosted by various UN entities. These partners come from 100 different professions, 158 countries of assignment, and served with 60 UN partners worldwide. The UN also received a total of 68,173 online volunteer applications. Despite the impact of the pandemic, this did not stop the volunteers from offering their services.

The theme of IVD 2021 is “Volunteer now for our common future,” which aims to inspire people, whether they are decision makers or citizens, to take action for people and the planet. As IVD 2021 draws near, the ASEAN youth and young professionals are called on to take action and participate in green volunteering across the region.

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ASEAN 2030: Youth Perspective in the New Global Landscape

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Authors: Hein Htet, Anjulie Razak, Dwi Riyan, Chanbora Sek*

The year 2015 is a remarkable year for the sustainable development journey. It is a year where the nations decided to move from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals and set the aim to transform our world with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is the same year the ASEAN Community set the ambitious Vision 2025 to build an integrated, peaceful, and stable community with shared prosperity. The two ambitious goals cover a wide range of sectors in accordance with people, planet and profit framework and complementary to each other in many aspects.

The spread of COVID-19 pandemic around the world has impacted these goals and ambitions toward certain directions and pushed them to become more resilient in the near future. Since ASEAN youths are vital for the success of the ASEAN community, it is now a good time to ask ourselves just “how we as ASEAN’s youth want to see ASEAN by 2030”?

Indonesia 

Indonesia committed to successfully achieving SDGs agenda in 2030. So far, out of 241 indicators of SDGs, Indonesia already achieved 94 of them. Indonesia outlines the goals and targets that are most viable to their ongoing development challenges, emphasizing the importance of addressing key issues in health, education, social protection, food security and sustainable agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystem services and biodiversity, and financial support for local authority.

The Indonesian government has been doing several efforts to put Sustainable Development Goals through its policies. They also issued several issues to be focused on and decided on the implementing evaluation process to measure the achievement of SDGs. As a result, Indonesia’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will increase by one level in 2020. Indonesia’s position will be higher from 102 to 101 out to 166 countries. Indonesia’s index score has progressed from previous years. In 2019, the index score was 64.2, while in 2020 it was 65.3.

However, Indonesia still needs to focus and do some accelerated actions to reach 2030 SDGs goals. Here is my vision towards Indonesia’s commitment to SDGs in 2030.

First, Indonesia has full Political commitment and concrete action that urgently needed to get the SDGs on track and accelerate its progress. Sustainable Development Goal should become the core principles to Indonesia politic culture to ensure the supervision clearer on each sector of Indonesian development. By having political will on SDGs, it will automatically drive Indonesia policy to be closer on sustainability.

Second, Implementing Responsible Investment Principles toward sustainability as Indonesia’s financial strategy to fund any development of infrastructure which also become one of the core targets of current Indonesia’s president. Moreover, It would be good to have a special scheme on youth-based sustainable capital to boost the development of youth-based business with sustainability principles to participate in the economic development of Indonesia.

Third, Implement a social forestry program for all the remaining forests in Indonesia as the border of any investment in the community nearby the forest that potentially damages the forest. The status and legitimacy of Indonesia’s forest should be strengthened to ensure zero deforestation development in Indonesia, and maximize the program that ensures the economic development while still managing to protect forest. Moreover, the focus also needs to develop sustainable livelihood for the locals with better measurement and evaluation along with the implementation of social forestry programs.

Cambodia

Cambodia highly regards the SDGs as one of the main vehicles toward sustainability. As one of the UN member states, Cambodia has successfully nationalized SDGs into its own domestic strategic development framework in 2018, which is called “Cambodia Sustainable Development Goals Framework 2016-2030” or CSDGs 2016-2030, according to the Royal Government of Cambodia.

To date, the Cambodian government focuses heavily on six global prioritized goals of the CSDGs, which is goal 4, 8, 10, 13, 16, and 17. The latest data in 2019 revealed that 29% of the targets were ahead of track, 32.3% were on track, and 38.7% lacked sufficient data to make a judgment. Therefore, it is still a long journey for Cambodia to fully achieve the CSDGs before the 2030 deadline, especially during the global pandemic of COVID-19.

CSDGs need the involvement of various stakeholders, including youth because Cambodian youth is made up of around 70% of the total population. Therefore, youth involvement is essential in achieving CSDGs by 2030. And as a Cambodian youth myself, I have some visions that I want to see Cambodia by 2030 in its mission toward achieving the CSDGs.

First vision: By 2030, 80% of Cambodia’s energy will come from renewable and green energy, because Cambodia’s geography is favorable for positive exploitation of renewable energy, including hydroelectric, wind, and solar energy. With the latest data in 2020, approximately 35% from coal, 48% from hydroelectricity, 2% from fuel oil, and less than 1% from renewable energy (other than hydro), while the remaining energy is imported from neighboring countries.

Second vision: By 2030, all of Cambodia’s natural resources including protected forests, animals, national parks, ocean, and rivers are fully protected from the encroachment of illegal logging, poaching, and exploitation. As of 2019, Cambodia’s protected rainforest Prey Long lost 7,511 hectares of tree cover, which is equal to a significant increase of 73% compared to 2018, due to illegal logging for luxury wood.

Third vision: By 2030, Cambodia and all ASEAN member states have built a stable community that is resilient toward global pandemics, climate change, and environmental problems. As well as setting itself as a successful example for international duplication. At the same time, a sustainable lifestyle is a new normal for Cambodians and other ASEAN youth in promoting sustainable consumption, environmental protection, and social protection.

Malaysia

Malaysia became one of the 192 signatories that adopted the 2030 Agenda and established a three-phase implementation framework to align SDGs along the country’s national development plans. The National SDG Council leads the SDGs implementation and monitoring together with five Cluster Working Committees (CWCs), focusing on themes ranging from inclusivity, well-being, human capital, environment and natural resources, to economic growth.

The country’s 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP), effective 2021-2025 aims to pick up the momentum from its predecessor plan to maintain the progress in Goal 1, 7, 8, and 9 while putting more focus on Goals 3, 5, 6, 11, and 16. In 2019, Malaysia initiated the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV 2030) to strengthen their commitment and ensure equitable wealth distribution to all citizens. Today, the country is ranked 65th in the 2021 Sustainable Development Report, trailing behind ASEAN counterparts such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Malaysian youths make up approximately 70% of Malaysia’s demographic and experienced a 13.6% unemployment rate as of May 2021. Graduate unemployment is more concerning as DoSM reports a 4.5% increase from 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic reflected a competitive labour market, however the bigger picture of unemployment has yet to be addressed. Upskilling of youths can integrate them into the constantly changing workforce and help overcome the challenges in sustaining the economy’s lack of adequate skill set and manpower.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development accounts for a mere 5% or US$7.64 billion of FDI to Malaysia in comparison to the 80% or US$156 billion to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore. This shows that Malaysia’s political turbulence benefits no one as securing a larger percentage of the FDI can help to boost innovative and sustainable business economies. Therefore, governance transparency is a significant goal to achieve by 2030.

Malaysians have been abuzz with the government’s recent announcements on the climate change agenda. Discussions on net zero emissions and green economy emerged in the 12MP and has faced several backlash by the public for its ambitiousness. This, along with the decreasing focus in SDG 15 (Life on Land) poses a serious threat to climate change mitigation in Malaysia’s development blueprints. By 2030, Malaysia should recognise the importance in preserving and conserving terrestrial biodiversity in order to achieve a holistic measure in combating climate change.

Our Vision for Sustainability

The demand for sustainable development is growing like we have never seen before, therefore ASEAN as a regional community must incorporate the SDGs elements in national development plans as it approaches national problems with an interdisciplinary and holistic approach. Tangible changes take time, however, it is worth noting that by making small but significant steps to acknowledge SDGs can benefit the countries in the long run. Additionally, innovation, knowledge, financial capacity, and commitment is necessary to effectively implement and ensure that countries stay on track of their plans. Moreover, to achieve sustainable growth, empowering the youth and getting them involved as one of the major stakeholders is very important as they are the generation that will inherit the countries in the near future.

*ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management Students from Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia.

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