Today, 20 years ago, Vietnam officially became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). As the country celebrates this monumental event, the year 2015 also witnesses the 48th anniversary of the bloc's establishment (August 8, 1967 – August 8, 2015).

The following is an article written by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh on these occasions:

In 2015, Vietnam celebrates the 20th anniversary of the country's entrance to ASEAN, which coincides with the debut of ASEAN Community this December. Vietnam's ASEAN entry is intertwined with the country's "doi moi" (renewal) process and gradual international integration. Vietnam too, has made significant contributions to the organisation's growth. This is an important opportunity for us to look back over the country's growth and map out directions for the time to come.

The ASEAN Community is now constituted by three major pillars of political security community, economic community and socio-economic community. An inter-Governmental organisation which is joined in politics, united in economics, held responsible for society and operates based on legal grounds – this is the ASEAN Charter.

This is a great achievement that ASEAN has worked towards for the last 48 years, marking a milestone in the process of regional linkage and creating more incentives for ASEAN to enter a new phase of development and to enhance the efficiency of its operations.

ASEAN has become a tight-knit political – economic entity that plays an important role in assuring peace, security and development in the Asia-Pacific region. It is an essential partner of many countries and international organisations, and is considered one of the most successful regional cooperation organisations by the public worldwide.

The success of ASEAN is indebted to numerous elements. First and foremost is that basic interests, vision, strong political determination and tireless efforts are shared by member countries, including Vietnam.

Vietnam officially entered ASEAN on July 28, 1975 but actual progress started years before. The country joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and became ASEAN observer in July, 1992 and took part in a number of the body's activities since 1993.

Vietnam's membership in ASEAN has always influenced the Party and State's major foreign policy and international integration guidelines, which is appropriate with increasing regionalisation.

Several principles

Our principles are several. First, "to boost and expand relations with all countries in the world, regardless of different socio-political regimes, and to exercise friendship, cooperation, and peaceful co-existence policies in order to further develop, as is suitable with the interests of Vietnamese people and the world's common development tendency." This is regarded as the cornerstone of Vietnam's policy of international integration.

Secondly, "to accelerate comprehensive and effective cooperation with ASEAN member countries and countries in the Asia-Pacific region."

Thirdly, "to take active and responsible steps to join hands with member countries in order to build a stable ASEAN Community, to increase relationship with partners, and to maintain and reinforce the important role of ASEAN within cooperative frameworks in the Asia-Pacific region."

Finally, "to strive together with ASEAN member countries to build Southeast Asia into a peaceful, stable and prosperous region."

It can be said that each stage of Vietnam's ASEAN membership has gone hand-in-hand with renewed thought towards foreign affairs.

Right after joining ASEAN, Vietnam played an active role in the admission of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar into the association, completing the vision of an ASEAN inclusive of all 10 Southeast Asian countries.

The formation of ASEAN-10 has contributed to member countries building new relationships that are friendlier, sustainable, long-standing, comprehensive, devoted to strengthening regional ties and to moving the ASEAN Community forward.

Defining targets

Vietnam's role in defining ASEAN's targets, navigating its future development and forming important policies is one of the country's most important responsibilities.

The country has contributed to important documents such as the ASEAN Vision 2020 and implementation plans, the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II, the ASEAN Charter, the 2009-2015 Roadmap for an ASEAN Community, implementation plans for each community pillar, the Action Plan for the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) and Narrowing the Development Gap (NDG), the Master Plan, the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity and more.

At present, Vietnam is actively participating in the building of the Post-2015 ASEAN Vision, which prioritises deepening ASEAN connectivity and basing it on laws and humanitarian principles.

Vietnam has served well in the role of ASEAN president and hosted many big events. Just three years after joining ASEAN, Vietnam successfully organised the third ASEAN Summit in December, 1998. That summit produced the Hanoi Plan of Action, contributed to the association's development direction and helped ASEAN overcome a regional financial crises.

Ministries, sectors, the National Assembly and people's organisations have successfully hosted important ASEAN conferences and activities at all levels and in various fields, thereby boosting ASEAN cooperation.

Specifically, Vietnam served as ASEAN president in 2010 producing pragmatic and effective results. We helped concretise an important step in the establishment of the ASEAN Community and increased the role and position of ASEAN in the international arena.

Vietnam has become a responsible member of the bloc. The country has proactively participated in the bloc's numerous cooperation activities in areas of politics, economic, security, culture and international relations as well as numerous of the bloc's agreements to realise the implementation of ASEAN Community in 2015.

As a member state of ASEAN, Vietnam was able to gain the support of other countries in regional matters of national security and socio-economic development, especially the country's effort in safeguarding its interests and sovereignty in the East Sea.

Trade agreements among ASEAN's states gave Vietnam better access to the region's markets and international markets as well as opportunities to attract investment and enhance its international commercial links.

Vietnam was also able to share its development experience with other member states, facilitate technology transfers, and improve others' management capacity and quality of labour force. The country is also better positioned to deal with global issues such as epidemics, natural disasters and climate change.

Not only was Vietnam's ASEAN member status elevated, but the bloc also provided Vietnam with a platform to enhance its own relations and cooperation with the international community.

Twenty years after becoming a part of ASEAN, Vietnam has gained a better understanding of the opportunities, advantages and challenges faced by the region. We have learned many valuable lessons.

ASEAN development

The future development of ASEAN will include many opportunities and challenges that require Vietnam and other member states to improve their cooperation and readiness to ensure the region's interests.

Firstly, we need to raise the awareness of the strategic importance of Vietnam's participation in ASEAN, resulting in proper attention and investment in our country's resources. The ASEAN region is a crucial part of Vietnam's socio-economic development and national security; it serves as a gateway for the country to establish links with the international community and facilitate its global integration process.

Secondly, Vietnam must continue to maintain its approach as a "proactive, positive and responsible" member to build a united ASEAN, whose role in the region will only become more important.

Thirdly, relevant domestic agencies need to map out policies and measures suitable to the nature and level of their involvement with ASEAN activity in order to maximise the efficiency of Vietnam's participation in the bloc.

The ASEAN Community is an intergovernmental cooperation organisation operating on the basis of national sovereignty and equality. The group is a "unity in diversity" community with big differences in socio-political systems and development levels of its members.

So, while it is necessary to follow principles, the measures it takes and the modes of implementation must be flexible in order to take advantage of similarities, reduce differences, and enhance unity and cooperation within ASEAN. This will contribute to gradually improving the quality of "unity in diversity," staying in-line with the association's objectives and principles, and balancing national with regional interests.

Fourthly, participation via ASEAN's cooperation mechanisms is formally carried out by the Government but requires the combined effort, positive involvement and close coordination of ministries, sectors and people from all walks of life, especially enterprises.

ASEAN activities are diverse and complicated, taking place in all fields from politics to security and from economics to culture. They also occur between ASEAN's ten member countries, the Southeast Asian region, and between the bloc and leading global partners.

The process of regional and international integration creates new and complicated issues of an interdisciplinary nature that impact people at all levels.

Fifthly, Vietnamese laws and regulations need to be examined and corrected often to facilitate the implementation of regional commitments. It will be necessary to increase the number of staff and units in charge of ASEAN-related works in each agency and to promote communication to raise public awareness of ASEAN and Vietnam's participation in the association.

Vietnam believes that, with its 20 years of experience of cooperation within ASEAN, it has become a proactive and responsible member of the bloc. With the country's increasing role in the region and the world, and with its efforts and political determination, Vietnam will continue to uphold its responsibilities.

The country will work to further the ASEAN Community, which will show the world the close connection among its member nations and play an important role in maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region.-VNA