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SINGAPORE: Singapore will contribute US$100,000 to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund as the region continues to work together to combat the pandemic, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Nov 12).
Speaking at the ASEAN Summit, which is being held via video conference, Mr Lee also called the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) later in the week a “major achievement”.
“The RCEP affirms ASEAN’s collective commitment to economic integration and to an inclusive, open and rules-based multilateral trading system,” Mr Lee said.
The trade pact includes the 10-member ASEAN bloc, along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and until last year, India, which pulled out of the deal.
VACCINES AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY
“COVID-19 has been the defining challenge of 2020,” Mr Lee said in his address to ASEAN leaders on Thursday morning, describing it as a “turbulent year”.
ASEAN member states, like many other countries, continued to grapple with new waves of infection and the economic impact of the pandemic, he said.
“Under Vietnam’s able stewardship, ASEAN has played an important role in helping us make steady progress combatting the pandemic,” he said, citing how member states helped one another to repatriate citizens stranded overseas.
Mr Lee noted the establishment of the ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group on Public Health Emergencies to lead the regional response, as well as the creation of the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies and COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund that Singapore is contributing to.
“Singapore recognises the importance of these mechanisms,” he said.
The ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and Strategic Framework on Public Health Emergencies, which is under discussion, will also strengthen the bloc’s readiness to fight future pandemics, he added.
One immediate area in which ASEAN should work together to mitigate the long-term impact of the pandemic was to ensure the “equitable, steady and affordable” supply of vaccines once available, Mr Lee said.
Affirming Singapore’s belief in “vaccine multilateralism” and support for global vaccine initiatives, Mr Lee noted that many ASEAN member states and partners were members of such facilities.
“Many leading vaccine candidates are being developed by our external partners, as well as our ASEAN member states too. We should work with them to facilitate the production and distribution of vaccines to meet the needs of our region,” he said.
On the economy, Mr Lee called on the regional bloc to “redouble efforts” to enhance its competitiveness in the post-coronavirus world.
Initiatives such as the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, ASEAN Smart Cities Network and recently launched ASEAN Customs Transit System “can catalyse our recovery, and let us make full use of technology as we adjust to new ways of living and doing business in the post-COVID world”, he said.
Mr Lee said that ASEAN will continue to face difficult challenges ahead, adding that “great power rivalry” was not absent from the region.
“Indeed, recent tensions between the US and China have placed the region under greater stress and tested ASEAN Centrality and unity,” he said.
“Yet ASEAN can also make a modest contribution towards better mutual trust and cooperation among the major powers. Our regional architecture is open and inclusive by design, with ASEAN at its centre.
“We must retain our value proposition of offering a neutral platform for countries to work together on regional and global challenges such as counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and transboundary haze pollution,” he said.
This week’s ASEAN Summit and related summits are expected to be the last on the ASEAN calendar this year, before Vietnam hands the regional bloc’s chairmanship to Brunei.