Asean committed to reduce post-pandemic impacts

Asean committed to reduce post-pandemic impacts

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses the 36th Asean summit video conference, attended by other leaders in Hanoi, on Friday. (Reuters photo)

HANOI: Asean leaders on Friday committed themselves to seek comprehensive ways to ease the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and get the sputtering Southeast Asian economy back on a growth path.

The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed the issues facing the region at a summit held virtually due to the pandemic, with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc serving as a host.

The leaders in a joint statement pledged to strengthen mechanisms to create a region “capable of dealing with the current global challenges” and “reduce the impacts of Covid-19 through comprehensive recovery plans,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters in Jakarta.

They also agreed that besides consensus and consultation, integrated, strengthened coordination is the key to effectively responding to the crisis, according to Retno.

The statement was not immediately made public after the meeting.

During the summit, the leaders of at least four countries — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand — proposed creating travel bubbles, or corridors among member states, to help revive the regional economy, according to officials who briefed reporters and other sources.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha joins the 36th Asean Summit via video conference at Government House on Friday. (Government House photo)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his remarks, “called on Asean to start considering shared paths in easing measures that have become obstacles to travel in order to help restore businesses and people-to-people connectivity,” according to his spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat.

While echoing Thailand’s view, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin bin Yassin stressed that the proposed travel bubbles should apply only to “green” Asean member states, which apparently refers to countries that have largely tamed the spread of the virus.

“Malaysia feels very strongly that our governments must materialize cohesive plans to quickly implement…’travel bubbles’ between ‘green’ Asean members states to shore up investments and create job opportunities for our people,” Muhyiddin said.

He mentioned medical tourism as an area that can be promoted through the bubbles.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, for his part, proposed that Asean create travel corridors “carefully, measurably and in stages,” starting with essential businesses based on “tight health protocols,” according to Retno.

The president urged his colleagues to assign their ministers to discuss the issue immediately, Retno said.

Asean normally holds summit meetings in spring and fall. Vietnam was originally scheduled to host one in Danang in April, but it was postponed due to the pandemic and was eventually held as a virtual conference.