1515 p4 vietnam leading asean wide aims
Throughout fighting the pandemic, Japan has been supporting Vietnam with supplies. Photo: Le Toan

Member states have just adopted an amended concept document on ASEAN’s COVID-19 response fund and a document on regional reserves of medical supplies.

Both documents will be submitted to the ASEAN Coordinating Council before being discussed at the 37th ASEAN Summit, scheduled for next month in Vietnam.

The nations will also consider and opine on the bloc’s standard operating procedure for public health emergencies, the draft comprehensive recovery framework for ASEAN, and an implementation plan. They have also been urged to enhance collaboration to complete those documents on schedule, prior to the summit.

Nguyen Quoc Dung, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the ASEAN SOM, told VIR that Vietnam is undertaking the role of ASEAN chair during an exceedingly difficult time. Fully aware of its responsibilities, the country has taken the initiative in cooperating with regional states to take drastic measures against the pandemic. Vietnam has quickly shifted the focus into responding to COVID-19 in a cooperative spirit, now considered a prime priority of ASEAN.

“The comprehensive recovery framework for ASEAN is mostly focused on combining and harmonising policies of member states, while other issues such as establishing shared funds or a regional reserve of medical supplies will need technical or financial contributions from regional nations or from outside,” Dung said.

The recovery plan should ensure benefits for the public, businesses, localities, and governments as all of them have been hit by COVID-19. The member states have also advocated the development of a travel corridor within ASEAN to make it easier for regional citizens to move around regionally.

“Fighting the pandemic successfully will mean more convenient facilitation of trade and investment flows within ASEAN, and those from the region into Vietnam,” Dung noted.

According to Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, Southeast Asia is now Vietnam’s fourth-largest export market after the US, the EU, and China. Vietnam’s export turnover to the region surged from under $1 billion in 1995 to $18.23 billion in 2015. However, the figure ascended to $24.7 billion in 2018 and $25.3 billion last year, up 1.9 per cent on-year. In the first nine months of 2020, the figure hit $17 billion, down 12.5 per cent on-year.

Meanwhile Southeast Asia is also Vietnam’s third-largest import market. The country’s import turnover from other member states totalled $32 billion in 2018 and $32.1 billion last year. The figure touched $21.8 billion in the first nine months of 2020, down 8.7 per cent on-year.

ASEAN’s efforts to fight the pandemic have also received support from other nations, such as Japan and the US. During his official visit last week to Vietnam, Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide stated that Japan will continue supporting ASEAN through the health crisis and beyond.

“Japan has been providing medical supplies and equipment in the form of grant aid, and assisting human resource development with a view to contributing to strengthening health and medical care systems and improving public health in ASEAN,” he said.

“In addition, at an unprecedented speed, Japan is implementing the COVID-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support, with loans worth up to ¥500 billion ($4.74 billion) over the next two years to support economic activities of countries with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region including ASEAN.” These instances of cooperation also serve universal health coverage, a goal that Japan has been striving for together with ASEAN.

Moreover, Japan and ASEAN are currently working together towards the establishment of the ASEAN Centre for public health emergencies and emerging diseases.

“We have never forgotten how ASEAN countries helped us as friends when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011. I believe that the ability to help each other in crises and respond swiftly to emerging challenges is another trait of the cooperation between Japan and ASEAN as equal partners,” PM Yoshihide said.

For Vietnam, Japan has pledged to provide $18.8 million in aid to four Vietnamese hospitals in Hanoi and the central city of Danang to help fight the pandemic. The funds will be released over 18 months and began in August.

Meanwhile, the US State Department announced several new initiatives last month as part of the US-ASEAN Health Futures initiative. In Southeast Asia, the US has provided over $87 million in government assistance to fight COVID-19 in regional nations, including Vietnam. VIR

Khoi Nguyen

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