Wednesday, 8 Apr 2020

China, Asean ministers vow to boost cooperation to fight epidemic

China and Asean’s foreign ministers agreed to step up cooperation in combating the coronavirus epidemic, and in reducing its economic and social impact in a special meeting in Vientiane yesterday.

They pledged to share information and best practices in a timely manner, mitigate supply chain disruptions of urgent medical goods, and promote research and development of medicines and vaccines.

They also committed to “resume and enhance exchanges and cooperation” on the people-to-people, trade and investment fronts when the epidemic is controlled.

China has locked down the city of Wuhan – the epicentre of the virus – and imposed stay-home orders for tens of millions of people in a bid to contain the virus that has killed over 2,100 people so far.

Within Asean, approaches to contain the epidemic have varied.

While Vietnam and Singapore have barred entry to anyone who has been to mainland China in the past 14 days, Cambodia and Thailand have kept their doors open to Chinese travellers.

Still, regional trade and manufacturing networks have been upended by travel disruptions, and economists are expecting the logjam to decimate economic growth.

Speaking at a dinner for the foreign ministers on Wednesday night, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised Asean countries for their support of China and expressed confidence that his country was winning the battle against the coronavirus.

“I believe that the China-Asean relations and China’s ties with each of the Asean members will be further deepened after the test of the epidemic,” he was quoted by China’s official Xinhua news agency as saying.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, in an interview with CNA, said the next two to three weeks are going to be a crucial period, where the world will have a clearer idea if the actions taken by China and other countries have borne fruit or if there is widespread community transmission.

If “you see across North-east Asia and South-east Asia widespread community transmission, then you know you are in a completely different phase of what I believe may become a global pandemic”.

While the minister did not think that any country has been lax in its response to the virus threat, Dr Balakrishnan worried about the virus taking hold in countries which had healthcare systems that were less able to cope.

“Given the diversity in South-east Asia, the diversity in the sophistication of healthcare systems, it will be dreadful if we have an epidemic or pandemic that catches a light in countries whose healthcare systems are much less able to cope,” he said.

“If we do our best and if we cooperate with our neighbours, we can reduce the potential impact it has on others… whose economies and healthcare systems may actually be less able to tolerate this challenge.”

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