Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Australian foreign ministers convened Tuesday in a virtual meeting to discuss cooperation amid the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and outlining a plan for economic recovery in the Indo-Pacific region.
The two sides noted that the pandemic continues to post “complex developments” and risks of virus resurgence remained high, requiring all countries to be on their guard and boosting information and experience sharing and enhancing disease control.
Asean and Australia diplomats agreed to further cooperation in researching and manufacturing of a Covid-19 vaccine and medicines, ensuring all people would get access to them.
They also reaffirmed commitments to help each other’s citizens who are stranded overseas due to the pandemic and facilitate repatriation when conditions allow.
Foreign ministers from Asean members and Australia said they would maintain an undisrupted regional and global supply chains, especially regarding essential goods.
They also discussed gradual movement restrictions, including setting up travel bubbles, with necessary health measures.
The two sides will take better advantage of existing mechanisms such as the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, Australia’s economic assistance, and development cooperation programs, as well as actively contribute to promoting multilateral trade, and soon conclude the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement.
Asean members also appreciated Australia’s support in fighting the pandemic, asking that Australia contribute to Asean’s initiatives such as the regional Covid-19 response fund, the regional medical supplies reserve, or its master plan on economic recovery.
“I emphasized Australia’s concern that the pandemic is compounding strategic risks,” Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said in a statement. “It is placing strain on institutions, reducing resilience to shocks and creating the conditions for actions that undermine the rules and norms underpinning our shared stability and prosperity.”
Australia committed a USD23 million package for Asean, which include:
• A new Asean-Australia health security initiative to help prevent, detect, mitigate communicable diseases;
• A new Asean-Australia Political-Security Partnership, which will include a focus on risks to stability arising from the pandemic, and enhanced support through the TRIANGLE in Asean program to vulnerable migrant worker communities;
• An extension of the successful Asean-Australia Digital Trade Standards initiative to accelerate the region’s digital transformation; and
• Support to the Asean Post-Pandemic Recovery Plan to help drive a collective response.
Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyễn Quốc Dũng, on behalf of foreign minister Phạm Bình Minh, said Asean had shown highest political commitment and beefed up cooperation in its mutual response against the pandemic, in line with Vietnam’s chairmanship theme of “Cohesive and Responsive.”
During the virtual meeting, Asean and Australia also stressed the importance of maintaining a peaceful, stable, safe and rules-based region as all efforts are being expended to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Vietnamese diplomat stressed that in the current context, countries must uphold their responsibilities and “refrain from actions that cause instability and undermine efforts to combat the pandemic.”(PNA)