At the closing ceremony of the 37th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi on 15 November 2020, Vietnam handed over the chairmanship of ASEAN for 2021 to Brunei Darussalam.
According to Article 31 of the ASEAN Charter, the chairmanship of ASEAN is rotated annually among its ten members, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of the member states. A recent departure from the norm was Indonesia swapping the ASEAN chairmanship for 2011 with Brunei Darussalam, a request that was unanimously accepted by the other ASEAN member states. Such exceptions to changing the order of the ASEAN chairmanship are, however, few and far between.
The roles of the ASEAN chair are to chair essentially all ASEAN meetings – most notably the ASEAN Summit and related summits, to promote the collective interests of ASEAN, to ensure ASEAN centrality, and to represent ASEAN in all its interactions with external parties. Ensuring ASEAN centrality is more vital than ever, given today’s precarious geopolitical context, in the face of the great power rivalry between China and the United States and the South China Sea dispute. The chair also plays a leading role in agenda-setting and consensus-building within the regional association.
Brunei joined ASEAN as its sixth member state on 7 January 1984, soon after gaining its full independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984. This year is Brunei’s fifth time chairing the ASEAN chairmanship. Previously, it helmed the ASEAN chairmanship in 1989, 1995, 2001 and 2013.
What can we expect from Brunei’s chairmanship this time?
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the immediate priority under Brunei’s chairmanship is driving a cohesive regional response to mitigate the debilitating economic, social and health impacts of the crisis.
The theme of Brunei’s ASEAN chairmanship is “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper”, which encapsulates the vision and focus of its stint as ASEAN chair. Caring is about placing people at the centre of its agenda. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, it means ensuring ASEAN work together to secure access to Covid-19 vaccines promptly, fostering community resilience, looking after the well-being of people, and expediting post-pandemic recovery. Given the disruptive shifts brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and global issues such as climate change, ASEAN needs to prepare its people to be future-ready – adapting to a rapidly changing world, seizing opportunities and overcoming the challenges ahead – to ensure the relevance and prosperity of the bloc.
Overall, its other priorities include upholding ASEAN principles, strengthening ASEAN institutions, and continuing efforts towards realising the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.
In addition to the theme, Brunei has unveiled the 2021 ASEAN chairmanship logo which comprises four elements. The ten petals represent the ten ASEAN member states joined together in unity. The colours symbolise values such as solidarity, respect and tolerance. The blooming flower expresses the diversity of ASEAN and its thriving as a region. Lastly, the gold ornament at the bottom of the logo draws inspiration from one of Brunei’s most recognisable patterns – the traditional motif “Bunga Ayer Muleh”. It illustrates ASEAN’s cooperation with other countries contributing to the development of the region.