31st Sea Games - Vietnam 2021 Covid-19 Pandemic
Dec 14, 2021 / 17:13

G7 plays major role in reinforcing ASEAN centrality: Carl Thayer

The G7-ASEAN ministerial meeting forms a new framework for cooperation that is more efficient and capable of assisting ASEAN than either bilateral strategic partnerships or large multilateral institutions.

The Group of Seven, or G7, comprises the world’s leading industrial states: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States.

 The 1st ASEAN-G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting opens in hybrid form on Dec 12. Photo: ASEAN 

The inaugural meeting between the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers and the Foreign Ministers from ASEAN member states was the initiative of the United Kingdom as G7 Chair for 2021. The meeting was held by videoconference on December 12, 2021. As noted in the Chair’s Statement ‘all G7 members were now ASEAN Strategic Dialogue or Development Partners, following the confirmation of the UK as a Dialogue partner earlier this year.’

The G7 and ASEAN ministers discussed their shared interests across a number of issues that may be grouped into seven clusters:

First, the ministers agreed to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region that included open markets, quality infrastructure, sustainable development, inclusivity, and regional stability. The G7 ministers reaffirmed their support for ASEAN Centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)

Second, the ministers agreed on the importance of the G7 and ASEAN working together to meet global infrastructure development needs by mobilizing financial resources from the private sector, international financial institutions, and multilateral development banks. In particular, the ministers highlighted the importance of developing 'a pipeline of projects in partnership with the private sector to meet vital infrastructure needs in ASEAN member states.’

Third, the ministers stressed the importance of increased cooperation to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. The G7 agreed to speed up the supply of Covid-19 vaccines and to support the development of more effective vaccines to address future threats to public health. The ministers also discussed how to ‘expand vaccine manufacturing capacity through Covid-19 vaccines in ASEAN member states.’

Fourth, the ministers recognized the importance of cooperating together to realize the potential of digital, technology, and cybersecurity. The G7 ministers suggested working with ASEAN member states to support capacity building to counter cyber threats.

Fifth, the ministers discussed the South China Sea and agreed on the importance of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to the Chair’s Statement, ‘We reaffirmed that the Convention sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the ocean and seas must be carried out…’ The minister also “underscored the importance of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea…’

Sixth, the ministers endorsed maritime cooperation between the G7 and ASEAN member states. In perhaps the most significant outcome of the G7-ASEAN ministerial meeting, the ministers endorsed ‘intensified cooperation in promoting maritime security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight.’ The ministers also agreed to address transnational crime at sea; marine sustainability; humanitarian assistance to persons and vessels in distress at sea; combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing; maritime connectivity and commerce; and marine scientific research.’

Seventh, the ministers discussed the situation in Myanmar and expressed their ‘deep concern’ at recent developments They endorsed ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus and supported the ASEAN Chair’s Special Envoy ‘to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process' by visiting Myanmar ‘to meet with all the parties concerned.’ In addition, the ministers stressed the importance of the ‘voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya to their place of origin in the Rakhine State.’

The importance of the first G7-ASEAN ministerial meeting is that it engages ASEAN, the leading multilateral association in Southeast Asia, if not the Indo-Pacific, with the seven leading global economies from Europe, North America, and Northeast Asia. This forms a new framework for cooperation that is more efficient and capable of assisting ASEAN than either bilateral strategic partnerships or large multilateral institutions like the European Union or the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM). The G7 compliments these other multilateral arrangements.

The Chair’s Statement ‘looked forward to closer cooperation between the G7 and ASEAN, including through the existing ASEAN-led mechanisms.’ In other words, the G7 will play a major role in reinforcing ASEAN centrality and the role of ASEAN-led regional mechanisms in the face of pressures from a more assertive China.

As for Vietnam’s expectations for the G7-ASEAN ministerial meeting, they were met. The G7 leaders addressed a number of common challenges faced by ASEAN and offered their support. This will bolster Vietnam’s bilateral diplomacy not only with G7 members but the European Union as well. This because Germany and France are major powers in the EU. At the same time, United Kingdom-Vietnam relations will be lifted

From Vietnam’s perspective, the G7-ASEAN ministerial meeting was a very positive development given the priority that Vietnam attaches to multilateralism, ASEAN-centrality and the role of ASEAN-led regional institutions.

Carl Thayer is an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Canberra.