Amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, Brunei Darussalam hosted the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits and Related Summits in October 2021 via a series of video conferences.
His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam as the Chair of ASEAN for 2021 chaired all 11 ASEAN Summits from October 26 to 28, 2021. The ASEAN Summit carried the theme, ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’. The 38th and 39th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits were joined by the leaders of ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners comprising China, Japan, Korea, India, United States, Australia and Russia.
At the end of the three-day summit, His Majesty shared that ASEAN’s discussions on advancing its community-building and recovering from the pandemic under Brunei Darussalam’s chairmanship theme were reflected in the Chairman’s Statements and outcome documents.
As the region continues to battle the pandemic, ASEAN prioritises securing vaccines and protecting the people’s well-being through the ASEAN Comprehensive Framework on Care Economy. His Majesty highlighted that ASEAN member states, along with partners in ASEAN Plus Three and the East Asia Summit, are working together to better understand and care for ASEAN people’s mental health in these challenging time.
His Majesty also shared that ASEAN is investing in sustainable development for the region by embracing the circular economy model and cooperation on the blue economy.
ASEAN’s external relations have also made progress, with agreements to establish comprehensive strategic partnerships with Australia and China. For the first time in over 25 years, ASEAN welcomed the United Kingdom as its new dialogue partner, whereby Brunei Darussalam will be the ASEAN Country Coordinator. The year 2021 also saw the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-Russia and ASEAN-China dialogue relations.
His Majesty expressed pleasure in chairing the first annual ASEAN-Australia Summit, as well as the first ASEAN-US Summit for President Joe Biden and the first ASEAN-Japan Summit for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Furthermore, ASEAN has also strengthened its cooperation with India, Japan, and Korea, in line with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. During the ASEAN Plus Three Summit and the East Asia Summit, discussions focussed on cooperation to promote economic recovery and public health, as well as addressing long-term impacts of the pandemic such as mental health and achieving sustainable green recovery.
His Majesty emphasised on Myanmar being an integral part of the ASEAN family. The monarch also hoped for the return to normalcy in accordance with the will of the people as well as the timely implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.
As the Chair of ASEAN for 2021, Brunei Darussalam was able to take the role in stride, said Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof. “What is good about ASEAN is that we are a family, we do things together, and we talk together whether it is with regards of one member state or the region. That is what ASEAN is about. It is the unique behaviour of ASEAN working by consensus.”
“People say reaching consensus is difficult, but it depends on who you talk to,” he said. “The uniqueness remains what it is today and will make it in the future. There will be always be issues in ASEAN, but it is the role of the ASEAN Chair to sail the ASEAN ship through turbulent waters.” The outcome of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on October 4, 2021 was the submission of the ‘Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration’ on a strategic holistic initiative linking ASEAN’s response to emergencies and disasters known as the ASEAN Shield.
This initiative was adopted by ASEAN leaders, the Declaration of Leaders on Blue Economy and the Coalition Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The minister also explained ASEAN’s response to the pandemic, where ASEAN member countries are awaiting the provision of vaccines to be purchased through the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund. Over USD10 million will be spent equally among member states to purchase hundreds of thousands of doses depending on the vaccine chosen.
“Recently, Singapore also shared and provided loans to facilitate our recovery efforts and look forward to ASEAN’s Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework where member countries need to see their vaccination status and how to validate vaccine certification digitally.”
The minister added that there were also moves to set up the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases. A host country will be chosen among the ASEAN member states, with Japan funding the centre’s establishment. As for political security, there has been progress in creating a political security blueprint, with a focus on cybersecurity as it becomes more prominent at this point.
At the end of the summits, Cambodia officially took over the ASEAN chairmanship for 2022, marking its third time as ASEAN chair since joining ASEAN in 1999.
The Brunei – Indonesia – Malaysia – Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) held its 14th Leaders Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan on October 28, 2021.
In his titah, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam said the member countries are focussing on recovery efforts to improve the economies and livelihoods of the people while emphasising on the importance of remaining committed and working together for a more, sustainable and prosperous BIMP-EAGA.
Connectivity remains central to regional economic cooperation and integration. The completion of key transport infrastructures and facilities will further facilitate the movement of goods and people across borders as well as revive tourism activities, said the monarch. His Majesty added that preliminary findings of the mid-term review (MTR) demonstrate that the BIMPEAGA Vision 2025 remains relevant and responsive to the national development agenda.
Connectivity remains central to regional economic cooperation and integration. The completion of key transport infrastructures and facilities will further facilitate the movement of goods and people across borders as well as revive tourism activities, said the monarch. His Majesty added that preliminary findings of the mid-term review (MTR) demonstrate that the BIMP-EAGA Vision 2025 remains relevant and responsive to the national development agenda.
Established in 1994, the principal aim of BIMPEAGA formation initiative is to increase trade investments and tourism within the participating areas though cross-border cooperation. By strengthening regional cooperation, the BIMPEAGA hopes to facilitate freer movement of people, goods and services thus expanding its market and resource base, and share common infrastructures and natural resources.
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