For ASEAN, 2020 and 2021 has been dominated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the region was, on the whole, not as severely affected by the initial waves of COVID-19 as other areas of the world in 2020, many ASEAN countries found themselves paralyzed by more virulent strains in 2021, a situation exacerbated by slow vaccine rollouts. Hospitalization and death rates subsequently spiked in many ASEAN countries, and its citizens were forced to endure more lockdowns and restrictions on mobility just as other regions of the world had begun to reopen their economies. As ASEAN Member States only now begin their road to recovery, many will no doubt view 2022 as the year to focus on their economic rebound, as well as (in the long term) creating greater resilience to future crises.
In certain ways, building resilience would involve recognizing and building upon trends already taking place in ASEAN during the past one and a half years. This will include accelerating the digitization of the region, as lockdown measures forced many businesses and consumers to turn to the Internet. ASEAN will need to work together to help promote the growth of the digital ecosystem in ASEAN by facilitating the greater movement of labour and data. Encouraging greater integration of ASEAN markets, most notably through the ratification of the Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) would definitely create systemic change at the ASEAN level and help promote further growth. However, as international doubts grow about the value of globalization and economic openness given the effects of COVID-19, questions must be asked if ASEAN will have the political will to implement drastic domestic reforms and challenge vested interests.