Southeast Asian nations plan to discuss forming a joint fund to combat the coronavirus pandemic with China, Japan and South Korea during a virtual summit on Tuesday, according to a Thai official.
The 13-nation special summit initiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations comes as the region struggles to contain the Covid-19 outbreak even after it spread to other parts of the globe. During a morning summit between Asean leaders, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha proposed repurposing funds to support efforts to deal with the ongoing threat, government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said.
While the value of the proposed fund was not made clear, the money would go toward the procurement of test kits, personal protective equipment and medical tools, as well as to support research and development in medicines and vaccines, she said. Gen Prayut “emphasised that no country could fight against the threat alone,” she said.
Many of Southeast Asia’s biggest economies have been shut down, with Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand imposing a range of lockdown measures. Indonesia, which has more than 4,500 confirmed cases, this week said it was expanding a partial lockdown to areas outside of Jakarta.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte -- whose country has the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia -- offered his support for Thailand’s proposal, calling the situation to “an unfolding catastrophe” in which the region should fast-track cooperation with partners.
“Our present challenge transcends borders and exempts no one,” he said. Regional food security has become an urgent priority, particularly with regards to ensuring a sufficient supply of rice, he added.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also called for an urgent meeting of regional economic ministers to draft a recovery plan that would provide address concerns about food and eduction, Hishammuddin Hussein, the country’s foreign minister, said in a tweet.
Vietnam, which holds Asean’s rotating chair, reported Tuesday morning that virus cases in Southeast Asian countries neared 20,000, with more than 880 confirmed deaths as of as of April 13, according to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
Reeling from the growing number of cases, Asean’s economic growth this year is also set to fall to 1% from 4.7%, Marsudi said. The body has had to cancel, postpone or modify 235 meetings to date.
Even as the regional grouping met virtually with China, Japan and South Korea, a Chinese official in Beijing separately disputed Vietnam’s reiteration of claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands. Vietnam accused China of sinking a fishing boat in a contested area earlier this month, the latest in a long series of confrontations.
“Vietnam’s claim of the islands in the South China Sea is against international laws, including the UN charter and UNCLOS -- it is invalid,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China said Thursday that Asean had become its biggest trading partner bloc, surpassing the European Union. That’s partly due to the effect of Brexit but also an increasing regional semiconductor trade, Li Kuiwen, China’s customs administration spokesman, said at a press conference in Beijing.