1. Vietnam successfully performs its ASEAN Chairmanship Year

In preparation for its ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020, Vietnam put forth the theme “A cohesive and responsive ASEAN Community” for 2020 although the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet broken out in the region and world. The theme for the block in 2020 became more relevant to the region in the context of the complicated development of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, as the ASEAN Chair, Vietnam hosted both face-to-face and virtual meetings within the framework of the ASEAN Year as scheduled. Although most of ASEAN Year’s meetings were for the first time held virtually, they all achieved good outcomes. International opinion highly valued Vietnam’s adaptability, creativity and leadership when the country successfully hosted the ASEAN Summit and related meetings as well as the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM+. What is more, all of these important meetings issued joint statements.

Delegates at the closing ceremony of the 37th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits (Photo: VNA) 

2. COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changes the world

The novel coronavirus was first found in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The disease quickly spread into the region and around the world, which changed ways of life, economic activities, trade, investment and international relations. By the end of 2020, the world recorded more than 82 million COVID-19 cases and some 1.8 million deaths from the disease. The pandemic negatively affected international relations as a large number of face-to-face meetings in both bilateral and multilateral terms were either canceled or held virtually. The success in developing and testing several COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020 brought a ray of hope to the world in 2021.

Medical staff taking a COVID-19 patient to a medical center in Houston (Photo: AP)

3. The United States of America sees the most dramatic presidential election in its history

Nations across the world closely watched dramatic developments in the U.S. presidential election in late 2020. In spite of the complicated developments of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., the country saw the largest number of American voters participating in a presidential election in the nation’s history. Democrat candidate Joe Biden has defeated President Donald Trump as he won 306 electoral votes, far more than the current U.S. President in the election. Despite this fact, President Donald Trump reiterated that there was fraud in the election so he did not accept his loss in the election. President Donald Trump’s attitude and unstable behavior has led Americans to doubt U.S. democracy and made U.S. politics disorderly. As a superpower in the world, the issues in U.S. politics have caused much concern to other countries.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (Photo: Getty Images)

4. Russia successfully holds International Army Games and related events.

In spite of the complicated developments in the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia still decided to organize annual international military events in 2020, namely the International Army Games and International Military-Technical Forum. As many as 32 countries sent delegations to the two major international military events taking place from August 23, 2020 to September 5. Vietnam’s military delegation included a high-ranking military group to the International Military-Technical Forum and 11 military teams to the Army Games. All Vietnamese military teams participating in the Army Games 2020 achieved good results. Especially Vietnam's Tank Team, which won the gold medal.

Vietnamese tank team wins gold medal in the Tank Biathlon Event of the Army Games 2020.

5. U.K. and E.U. agree on Brexit divorce terms

On December 24, 2020, the U.K. and the E.U. finally reached a Brexit deal after 9 months of debate. The deal articulates that the U.K. will become a country totally independent from the E.U., starting from January 1, 2021. Although there is much work for both sides to do in the post-Brexit time, the deal was still considered historic as it avoided a disorderly divorce between the U.K. and the E.U.

The U.K. and the E.U. finally reached a Brexit deal after 9 months of debate. (Photo: AFP)

6. Dull and lasting hostility between Armenia and Azerbaijan flares into armed conflict

The dull and lasting hostility between Armenia and Azerbaijan has stemmed from the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh is an area that is located inside Azerbaijan’s territory but the area is mostly governed by the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, which is patronized by Armenia. Fortunately, the two sides reached a ceasefire agreement on November 10, 2020, thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Russia. Although the conflict only lasted a short time, the effective way that Azerbaijan’s military conducted electronic warfare with the use of flying drones against Armenian troops have given some implications to international military researchers and strategists.

A map of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh

7. Diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries normalized

Israel normalized its diplomatic relations with four Arab countries over the course of four months. Accordingly, diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain were normalized on September 15 at the White House in the U.S., which was considered an important breakthrough in relations between Israel and the Arab World. After that Sudan and Morocco also signed deals with Israel on the normalization of their diplomatic relations.

At the signing ceremony (Photo: Reuters)

8. The U.S. and China continue their competition

The strategic competition between the U.S. and China continues in a fierce manner. At first, the two big powers increased tariffs on each other’s imports. The competition between them became fiercer and more comprehensive as it involved not only trade but also property rights, diplomacy and military. Both countries increased their military presence and military exercises in the East Sea (South China Sea), causing big concern to regional countries.

The strategic competition between the U.S. and China continues in a fierce manner. (Photo: The Economic Times)

9. RCEP – the largest free trade deal in the world signed between ASEAN and its partners

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was signed on November 15, 2020. With its membership of the 10 ASEAN member countries, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, RCEP has become the world’s largest free trade deal. RCEP covers a region from Asia to Oceania, has a market of some 2.3 billion people, and includes developed, developing and underdeveloped economies.

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc (left) witnessing the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (Photo: VNA)

10. Tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalate

A major flash-point in the already-bad U.S.-Iran  relations began with a targeted killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq January 3 2020. Iran accused the U.S. of the killing and later launched missile attacks on U.S. forces stationed in Iraq in retaliation for their dead high-ranking officer. The tensions between the two sides kept escalating in the following months as the two sides continuously carried out hostile acts against each other. Reportedly, U.S. President Trump considered launching military attacks on Iran several times.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been escalating as the two sides continuously carried out hostile acts against each other. 

Translated by Thu Nguyen