Southeast Asian nations yesterday pledged to keep regional supply chains open and discussed additional funding measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic across the region.
During a morning summit between ASEAN leaders, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha proposed repurposing funds to support efforts to deal with the ongoing threat, Thai 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 into medicines and vaccines, she said.
Prayuth “emphasized that no country could fight against the threat alone,” she said.
Many of Southeast Asia’s biggest economies have been shut down amid the pandemic, with Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand imposing a range of containment measures. Indonesia, which has more than 4,500 confirmed cases, this week said it was expanding a partial lockdown to areas outside of Jakarta.
In a concluding statement, the body said it supported “reallocating existing available funds” and encouraged “technical and financial support from ASEAN’s partners to facilitate cooperation against COVID-19,” including a virus response fund.
After the summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his country would secure additional financing, trying to utilize the pre-existing ASEAN-Republic of Korea Cooperation Fund, Asian Development Bank trusts and money pooled at the so-called “ASEAN Plus Three” level with China and Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had proposed setting up an ASEAN infectious disease response center, and that all the participating countries had agreed, without elaborating.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) did not mention the emergency fund explicitly.
However, he did suggest in a statement that all the countries should demonstrate the grouping’s role in fighting the epidemic and “revitalizing the economy,” while sending “a message of partnership, solidarity and mutual assistance among East Asian nations to boost confidence in our region and beyond.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte voiced 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 address concerns about food and education, Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hishammuddin Hussein said in a tweet.
Vietnam, which holds ASEAN’s rotating chair, reported yesterday morning that as of Monday, virus cases in Southeast Asian nations neared 20,000, with more than 880 confirmed deaths, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said.
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