China's foreign minister to attend special meeting with Asean on virus

In a photo taken on Feb 16, 2020, medical workers in protective suits attend to a patient inside an isolated ward of Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China's State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will attend a special Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting in Laos this week to discuss the coronavirus outbreak, which has battered manufacturing and tourism across the region and led to an array of travel restrictions.

Mr Wang will co-chair the meeting with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Lopez Locsin from the Philippines, which is the Asean-China country coordinator, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang announced yesterday.

The event on Thursday in Vientiane will be attended by other foreign ministers in the regional bloc.

"As close neighbours linked by mountains and rivers, China and Asean countries share the tradition of supporting each other through thick and thin," Mr Geng said during a daily briefing.

China and Asean have been working closely since the disease, known as Covid-19, broke out, Mr Geng added.

"That the two sides have decided to hold a special foreign ministers' meeting within such a short period of time demonstrates our will and determination to overcome difficulties with concerted efforts," he said.

A similar meeting was held in 2003 during the outbreak of se-vere acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which recorded a global death toll of 774.

The virus responsible for Covid-19 comes from the same family as that of Sars and has, to date, killed around 1,000 more people than Sars did.

During this week's high-level meeting, Mr Wang "will talk about China's strong measures on countering the new epidemic and exchange in-depth views on collaboration with Asean counterparts to advance joint prevention and control, maintain normal economic and social exchange, and explore launching a permanent mechanism on public health cooperation", said Mr Geng.

At the 56th Munich Security Conference last Saturday, Mr Wang said China has effectively curbed the spread of the outbreak beyond its borders and "has made extraordinary efforts and a heavy sacrifice" for that.

Entire cities, including central China's Wuhan city, where the virus originated, were locked down, and people restricted from returning home from Chinese New Year travels.

China's worst-hit province Hubei this week intensified its lockdown measures by banning vehicle traffic to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Describing China's economy as "well positioned to overcome all risks and challenges", the senior diplomat quoted the Chinese saying "after the storm comes the rainbow", and noted that the country's domestic demand and growth potential will lead to a more sustainable economic and social development after the virus crisis blows over.

A China-Asean medical experts' meeting will be held in parallel with the foreign ministers' meeting this week, said Mr Geng.

Mr Wang will also co-chair the fifth Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Foreign Ministers' Meeting during his three-day trip to Laos that starts tomorrow.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2020, with the headline China's foreign minister to attend special meeting with Asean on virus. Subscribe