ASEAN’s cooperation to combat COVID-19: Strength in unity

CMSC On April 14, Viet Nam's Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh wrote an article titled "ASEAN’s cooperation to combat COVID-19: Strength in unity". Below is the article in full.
The world is fighting an uphill battle to escape a global crisis, which has been unprecedented since the Second World War. This worst crisis stemmed from a virus that is miniscule in size, yet transboundary in nature, able to spread to every corner around the globe, threatening the lives of every person, every community, and the shared future of humanity as a whole. 
Combating this pandemic is a responsibility shared by all countries, governments, and regional and global mechanisms. In Southeast Asia and around the world, governments and citizens alike are taking resolute actions to fight this common adversary. In particular, ASEAN member states have offered assistance to one another, and facilitated the highest level of support for ASEAN citizens within their respective territory. This bears testament to the ever more critical role of solidarity, and international cooperation to a further extent. 
Given its centrality in the region, ASEAN provides a common shelter for its member states to weather the storm of COVID-19. Throughout our history of development over the past five decades, whenever challenged or faced with a  crisis, we emerge stronger. This time is no difference. ASEAN shall continue this time-tested value and fulfill its mission to support its member states during this circumstance of utmost hardship. 
Viet Nam, as the ASEAN Chair, and other ASEAN member states have identified the theme of “Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN” for 2020 with the aim of kicking into high gear the ASEAN Community building, and promoting ASEAN’s role in a world filled with uncertainties. The sudden outbreak of the SARS-COV-2 virus, and the unprecedented consequences and turbulences that followed, testified to the relevance of this theme and course of action.  
Since the early days of the outbreak, Viet Nam, together with ASEAN, has demonstrated quick and timely responsiveness, and cohesiveness in policy and action coordination among all member states. On February 14, we issued the ASEAN Chair Statement on ASEAN’s joint response to COVID-19. This was followed by a number of important Ministerial-level meetings on healthcare, economy and defense to ensure coordinated actions in combating the pandemic. ASEAN has also hosted various meetings with its dialogue partners, including China, the EU and the U.S. and important international organizations, such as the World Health Organizations (WHO), to exchange experience, provide mutual assistance and seek effective responses. 
ASEAN does not stand apart from the world. The well-being of our people and the performance of our economies are closely linked to the East Asian region and the world. Countries in our region have all suffered severe consequences from COVID-19. However, we have made every effort to combat this pandemic, and accumulated valuable experiences to be shared with others. Most notable examples would be enforcing early detection, implementing quarantine and social distancing, requesting the public to wear facemasks, raising awareness and encouraging people’s participation. 
Viet Nam has engaged in various international cooperation endeavours to tackle COVID-19 in such forums as the G-7, G-20 and the United Nations. We believe strongly in a more robust and united international response, and in that connection, ASEAN’s efforts and initiatives are of great significance. On April 14, Viet Nam will host the Special ASEAN and ASEAN Plus Three (with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea) Summit on COVID-19 where leaders shall elaborate actions and initiatives to further enhance cooperation in winning the war against the pandemic, and ensuring the region’s dynamic and sustainable development in the long run. 
Based on our exchanges and experience to date, ASEAN and its partners should focus on a number of measures in responding to and repelling COVID-19:
First, urgently muster common resources, particularly the region’s medical equipment stock to meet emergency needs; establish a cooperation fund for countering the COVID-19 pandemic while utilizing existing resources and assistance from partners, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
Second, raise the effectiveness of coordinating policies and actions on the basis of a common framework, focusing on building an ASEAN common approach in pandemic-related situations, and in the immediate, organize online drills on pandemic response between countries.
Third, understand that battling the pandemic must go hand in hand with battling economic recession and social instabilities, in which the people are placed at the heart. No country should be left alone and no one should be left behind in this battle. 
Fourth, develop a COVID-19 exit strategy in each country and forge regional coordination for the early suppression of the pandemic and bringing countries’ socio-economic activities back to their normal and stable state.
Fifth, uphold and adhere to the common values on free trade, investment facilitation, avoiding the disruption of supply chains; quickly normalize trade activities and cross-border transport once the pandemic is put under control, so that all engines are utilized for inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery and development in the region.
Now more than ever, we understand the importance of think Community and act Community. It is incumbent upon ASEAN to capitalize on its centrality to play a meaningful role in ensuring the post-pandemic region and world of continued integration, greater prosperity and sustainable development.
In the past three months, Viet Nam’s efforts as the ASEAN Chair have reflected the spirit of cohesiveness and responsiveness. With the unity among ASEAN member states and the support and close cooperation of partners, Viet Nam is confident that ASEAN will join the region and  the world to emerge triumphant from this pandemic./.

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