East and Southeast Asian countries have recorded significant success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. They have employed more effective crisis management strategies than countries in many other parts of the world. This article examines in detail the experiences of two of Asia’s pandemic success stories—South Korea and Vietnam—to identify the ways in which they responded to COVID-19 and how they related to state effectiveness. The lessons learned from the analysis of South Korean and Vietnamese crisis management include: the importance of preparedness and decisive action; the need for flexibility to cope with changing circumstances; that there are alternative crisis management strategies to reach the same desired outcomes; and that crisis management is best served by securing unity of purpose among government, citizens, civil society and the private sector. State effectiveness is a foundation for such features of successful crisis management.