Reporter: Vietnam took advantage of all opportunities when it assumed the ASEAN Chair in 2010 and the host country of APEC in 2017 to promote its beautiful image to international friends. However, how did the Covid-19 pandemic make it difficult for Vietnam to achieve its goal during its ASEAN Chairmanship Year in 2020?

Ms. Le Thi Thu Hang: Before taking over the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020, we had built a plan to disseminate information in 2020, expecting this would be an opportunity to promote beautiful images of the country, people and potentials of Vietnam. All of the preparations were completed, but the coronavirus spread throughout the entire world as a highly contagious pandemic. Facing such a situation, at the end of March 2020, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc officially informed leaders and heads of ASEAN members of the need to change the schedule of the 36th ASEAN Summit and the format of the meetings.

Following the Prime Minister's decision, we needed to change the contents and methods of external information dissemination into taking full advantage of local resources. For Vietnamese media and press agencies, foreign language channels needed to be promoted. For foreign press agencies, it became important to pay attention to reporters and resident offices in Vietnam.

Ms. Le Thi Thu Hang (first from the right) at a press conference on 37th ASEAN summit and related summits

In accordance with the spirit of "proactively adapting" and in order to adapt to the current "new normal" state, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Press and Information Department actively changed the way of providing information to reporters. We operated the International Press Center as usual and tried to create the most favorable conditions for international and domestic reporters who could not come to the events. We live streamed the opening and closing ceremony and press conferences on ASEAN 2020 website systems and social networks. In addition, reporters were able to get videos and photos on the ASEAN website.

The biggest concern of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was how to promote Vietnam's ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2020 as well as the country's image via virtual meetings. We produced 6 videos to review the ASEAN community’s achievements according to the roadmap of Vietnam's ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2020 and to introduce its achievements in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and gradually restore socio-economic development. The videos were broadcast in online meetings, on domestic and regional TV channels, and posted on the ASEAN website or through Vietnamese representative agencies abroad.

Instead of halting activities during the ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2020, the activities and events boomed. At first only about 200 meetings were planned, but the actual number in 2020 reached 550 virtual meetings, including 20 high-level meetings, including ministerial-level meetings and ADMM and ADMM +. On average, there were two meetings per day related to ASEAN.

As the host country, Vietnam ensured technical infrastructure for online meetings, and met all newly arising requirements. For example, at the end of the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM-53), when the press conference was about to begin, the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta (Indonesia) said that ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi also wanted to participate in the event. So we quickly coordinated with relevant agencies to set up an online press conference in parallel with the direct meeting.

Reporter: In your opinion, what new direction will the organization of online conferences open for information dissemination work in the future?

Ms: Le Thi Thu Hang: The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of global socio-economic life, and caused serious consequences. But I think that the pandemic has also had positive effects, thus opening up new directions for the present and the future. It can promote digital transformation in all fields, especially in communication.

Regarding the method of providing information, I think that it is necessary to promote and take advantage of information methods on digital platforms.

Firstly, we can regularly hold virtual press conferences. During the last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained regular online press conferences, thereby ensuring information on official communication channels. In the future, we can uphold this form, even livestream regular press conferences to attract the participation of more journalists.

Secondly, we should promote digital media products to meet the requirements of online activities, and show them on digital platforms. In 2020, there were more than 40 messages, speeches and interviews from senior leaders and leaders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted virtually. This is the first time all senior leaders including Party General Secretary, State President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan have had online speeches at the main sessions of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 75).

Regarding working conditions for media and press agencies, we can organize meetings or events by hybrid format. It means that we can hold both on-site and virtual press centers, and provide accounts so that reporters can receive information, photos and participate in press conferences and interviews. So, the foreign press agencies also join these events in an effective way.

Reporters: Thank you so much!

Translated by Lam Anh