Asean+3 declares war on virus

Asean+3 declares war on virus

Joint fund agreed to spearhead battle

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other Asean leaders appear in a video conference on Tuesday on Covid-19 hosted by Vietnam. (Government House photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other Asean leaders appear in a video conference on Tuesday on Covid-19 hosted by Vietnam. (Government House photo)

Asean and its Plus three dialogue partners -- China, Japan and South Korea -- have agreed in principle to setting up a joint fund to combat the coronavirus pandemic following a virtual summit, government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said on Tuesday.

The 13-nation special summit initiated by Asean comes as the region struggles to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, the amount was not decided upon during the special meeting between the Southeast Asian nations, China, South Korea and Japan.

The director-general of the Asian Affairs Department in China's foreign ministry, Wu Jianghao, said the money would come from an existing cooperation fund.

He also revealed all parties had agreed to set up a reserve medical supply centre, noting that the most urgent task was to contain the spread of the virus.

He said China will share its experience and research and provide technical assistance, according to thestar.com.my.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, said all countries must cooperate more closely for a collective response to the pandemic.

"We have gained valuable experience in jointly tackling crises and have put in place mechanisms for enhancing emergency preparedness.

"As we all live in this community with a shared future, we must work for an early victory against Covid-19 in East Asia," he said in a statement.

During talks between Asean leaders on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha proposed re-purposing funds to support efforts to deal with the ongoing threat.

Gen Prayut then attended the evening Asean Plus 3 Special Summit via video conferencing.

According to Ms Narumon who revealed the gist of the meeting, Gen Prayut and other Asean leaders commended the leaders of the Plus Three countries for their efforts and effective measures against Covid-19 which could considerably decrease infections and deaths.

All the leaders accepted that Covid-19 is a global crisis that has impacted all sectors of society.

In his statement at the Asean Plus Three Special Summit, Gen Prayut proposed three approaches.

The first was establishing a "Covid-19 Asean Response Fund" by allocating money from the Asean Development Fund and cooperation funds with China, Japan and South Korea.

This would be to handle short-term impacts such as procuring test kits, personal protective equipment, and related medical equipment, and long-term measures such developing new vaccines and medicines.

A second proposal involved optimising existing Asean Plus Three mechanisms, especially in public health, to develop and promote the use of information technology to provide innovative solutions to tackling pandemic and future challenges.

Gen Prayut also proposed the Asean Secretariat and the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat to compile and exchange information on related policies and measures of each country, and to make the most use of Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization to mitigate negative impacts, and regain regional economic and financial stability, where necessary.

The prime minister emphasised that close partnerships and sustainable development would lead everyone out of the crisis.

"We will overcome the Covid-19 crisis together," Gen Prayut said.

The virtual Asean Summit was proposed by Indonesia, since the virus, first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread worldwide, dealing a crushing blow to social and economic activities across the globe.

"Most of the Asean leaders focused on two things. The first was their common efforts to fight against Covid-19. The second was cooperation to deal with the impacts of the outbreak in socioeconomic sectors," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said during a video press conference.

Mr Marsudi, who attended the online summit with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, added the leaders of the 10-member bloc also agreed to bolster anti-virus efforts in such areas as information, research, epidemiology and clinical treatment.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the videoconference, "Retreating from regional and global connections cannot be the answer," according to his Presidential Communications Operations Office.

"Regardless of how we handle the crisis within our own respective territories, we can only be truly safe if we defeat this virus everywhere," Mr Duterte added.

The Asean meeting was chaired by Vietnam, which holds the rotating Asean chair this year.

In opening remarks, Vietnam's premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc hailed the work of Asean in fighting the virus so far.

He said Covid-19 "has badly impacted people's lives, their socio-economic situation ... challenging stability and social security''.

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