ASEAN Deepens Integration Through the Attachment Programme

29 September 2019

By JAIF Management Team

Capacity building initiatives are key to ASEAN’s integration and community building journey. The Attachment of Officers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam (CLMV) to the ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC) or simply the “Attachment Programme” is one of these. An enduring initiative since 1999, the Attachment Programme aims to support the vision of the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) “to assist the CLMV countries to meet ASEAN-wide targets and commitments towards realising the goals of the ASEAN Community and thereby contributing to narrowing development gap.” It abides by the principle of “moving forward in a unified manner.”

Dubbed as the flagship project of the IAI, the Attachment Programme contributes to addressing capacity gaps between the CLMV and the rest of ASEAN Member States (AMSs), particularly those of officials from the ministries related to the ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) pillars. It is proving to be a means to an end, and not the end in itself as attested by the four CLMV officials1 who graduated from the Programme.

H.E. Mr. Ekkaphab Phanthavong has been appointed as Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to ASEAN since April 2018.

© JAIF Management Team

Ambassador Ekkaphab Phanthavong, Lao PDR, Attachment Programme for Junior Diplomats (8th Batch, 2006-2007)

“Some Lao officials perform very well in their offices, but they don’t have opportunities to participate in this crucial Programme,” Ambassador Ekkaphab shared. Investing in human capacity building for CLMV such as the Attachment Programme, the Ambassador believes that both ASEAN and Japan can gain more benefits in the long run. “We can use the knowledge gained to engage with each other to further enhance cooperation between ASEAN and Japan,” the former Attachment Officer added.

More than a decade since joining the Attachment Programme, the Ambassador proudly looked back saying that the experience helped him change his life. Since working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1996, his foreign service has been devoted to ASEAN-related matters. Further solidifying his skills early on in his career, he summed up three things he took from his experience as an Attachment Officer, the same things he now observes among Lao officials who also participated in the Programme: 1) English improvement, especially noting that during his time, there were very limited opportunities for Lao officials to learn and practice the language; 2) creating networks between Attachment Officials and the ASEAN Secretariat, and Attachment Officials and external partners, the most important intangible benefit especially for government officials; and 3) ways of working, the knowledge gained being transferred back to the respective ministries.

“For CLMV, especially for Laos, we feel that the Programme meets what we need and is very relevant until now with the new generation of officials,” said the Ambassador. Ambassador Ekkaphab Phanthavong is currently the Permanent Representative of Lao PDR to ASEAN.

Mr. Hoang Quoc Trung (first from left) visits the ASEAN-Japan Centre as one of the activities of the study visit in Japan.

© Hoang Quoc Trung

Hoang Quoc Trung, Viet Nam, Attachment Programme for Junior Diplomats (13th Batch, 2014-2015)

The Attachment Officer from Viet Nam shared how he learned the value of having a “balanced point of view” when operating against a regional context. “Among those working experiences, I would highly appreciate the on-site trainings with my mentors during missions abroad, as well as through all related meetings with Missions of ASEAN Member States and Dialogue Partners,” Trung recalled. During his stay at the Attachment Programme, he also found it very informative to deeply understand Japan’s diplomacy, especially its cooperation with ASEAN, and expand his love for Japan in many ways.

He also fondly remembered the study visit in Japan, one of the main activities of the Attachment Programme. “Importantly, my first time ever visit to Japan at the end of the programme brought me a spectacular impression that was more than my imagination. This was a great motivation for me to apply for my posting to Japan in the term 2019-2021,” Trung added. Indeed, last June 2019, Trung has started his term as Consul at the Consulate General of Viet Nam in Osaka, Japan. “I believe with my understanding and knowledge about ASEAN-Japan cooperation, I would continue to contribute to the enduring cooperation between Viet Nam and Japan and ASEAN and Japan during my term at the Consulate. Prior to this new posting, Hoang Quoc Trung was an Official at the ASEAN Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Viet Nam.

Ms. Chhy Ratha during her stay at the ASEAN Secretariat as an Attachment Officer

Ms. Chhy Ratha during her stay at the ASEAN Secretariat as an Attachment Officer

© Chhy Ratha

Chhy Ratha, Cambodia, Attachment Programme for AEC and ASCC Involvement at the ASEC (2nd Batch, 2015-2016)

Bulk of the time spent at the Attachment Programme is being ‘attached’ to the ASEC for a certain period of time. Early batches spent six months while the latter and most recent ones have a year to complete the Programme. The range of work varies, but essentially the objective is for the Attachment Officer to learn about ASEAN and ASEC. This requires various activities—from servicing and attending meetings to writing reports. For Ratha, this part of the Programme was where she took the most out of her experiences. “The Social Welfare, Women, Labor, and Migrant Workers Division provided me with the opportunity to attend meetings and encouraged me to participate in the work of the Division as ASEC staff. I couldn’t forget the one where I went alone as if I were a regular ASEC staff,” she mused. Recalling the experience, the Attachment Officer shared that it was her first time to travel alone and that the experience was indeed a revelation even to herself.

Prior to joining the Attachment Programme, Ratha had the impression that ASEAN is “a little bit far” from their work at the Ministry. A year after her stint as Attachment Officer, she not only appreciated the linkage of national and regional efforts, but even passed on to her staff what she learned. “If you waste your time and you don’t work so hard during your attachment program, you cannot take benefit or experience from ASEC to bring back home. With this, I focus on the capacity building and the opportunities I can get from ASEC. It is better to often approach and request the work from your supervisor or colleagues in the Division,” she shared. After returning to her home Ministry in 2016, Chhy Ratha was promoted from Officer to Bureau Chief of Women and ASEAN Affairs, International Cooperation Department and also served as Assistant to Minister. Recently, in the middle of 2019, she was again promoted as the Director of International Cooperation Department, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Cambodia.

Htet Htet Htoo, Myanmar, Attachment Programme for AEC and ASCC Involvement at the ASEC (3rd Batch, 2016-2017)

Witnessing the contributions of the Attachment Programme by having supervised by a former Attachment Officer, Htet had a first-hand experience of the Attachment Programme even before joining it. Looking back, she said that this was perhaps her motivation for applying.

“I was weak in social skills,” Htet candidly describing her early years as a professional. Indeed, when she finally joined the Atta

Ms. Htet Htet Htoo (center) actively participates in the diplomatic training in Malaysia.Ms. Htet Htet Htoo (center) actively participates in the diplomatic training in Malaysia.

© Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations

chment Programme, she took it upon herself to improve on this aspect and appreciated the many opportunities afforded by her stay at the ASEC to do just that. Now, more than a great boost of confidence, she also reflected with much appreciation on how she can capitalize on the networks she has gained as she performs her work in the Ministry.

With the nature of work that she has now, Htet credited much the diplomatic training in Malaysia, which she received from the Attachment Programme. Referring to her participation to international trade negotiations and relations, the Attachment Officer added, “Now it is part of my responsibilities and I really find the things I learned from the training very applicable and useful.” Currently, Htet Htet Htoo is Assistant Director at the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations, Myanmar.

Japan has been a consistent supporter of the IAI since the adoption of the first IAI Work Plan in 2002 and currently the IAI Work Plan III. Through the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), it has consistently supported the Attachment Programme. To-date, it has a total of 88 graduates from 15 Batches for Junior Diplomats (APSC Involvement) since 2001 and 4 Batches for AEC and ASCC Involvement since 2013. The Attachment Programme continues to develop capacities of CLMV officials to participate in regional initiatives and to fulfill their regional commitments. The 16th Batch for Junior Diplomats and the 5th Batch for officials from Ministries relevant to the AEC and ASCC will commence in the last quarter of 2019.

1 Follows a chronological order based on the batch (old to new) of the respective Attachment Officer