Asean Summit to discuss economic recovery, cross-border travel

The leaders of South-east Asia will meet virtually for the 36th Asean Summit today, after a nearly two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In line with this year's theme of being a "cohesive and responsive" inter-governmental body, the Asean leaders will discuss the region's response in mitigating the impact of the pandemic, as well as the charting of a post-Covid-19 path to recovery, according to a statement issued by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday.

The leaders will also exchange views on regional and international issues, as well as continue discussions on how to strengthen regional cooperation, reinforce Asean centrality and promote regional peace and stability.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will lead the Singapore delegation in the virtual summit, said the ministry, adding that Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will also attend.

The possibility of allowing travel among Asean countries that have been categorised as "green bubbles" is one issue likely to be discussed during the videoconference today, Malaysian newspaper The Star reported yesterday. The "green bubble" concept involves easing travel restrictions between two or more countries where local coronavirus infections are low.

The matter had been mentioned in a recent meeting of Asean foreign ministers, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

He added that while cross-border travel is vital to reviving the region's badly hit economies, Asean members must also ensure that proper protocols are in place to safeguard their people from the virus.

A Jakarta Post editorial yesterday expressed hope that the Asean body will do more to ensure that none of its member states is left behind in the race to curb the spread of the deadly disease, pointing to countries with high numbers of infections, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Nearly 140,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 4,000 deaths have been recorded in the Asean region.

The Asean Summit was originally scheduled for April. This will be the first time the event is being convened via videoconference.

Founded in 1967, Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

A Jakarta Post editorial yesterday expressed hope that the Asean body will do more to ensure that none of its member states is left behind in the race to curb the spread of the deadly disease, pointing to countries with high numbers of infections, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Vietnam holds this year's Asean chairmanship.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2020, with the headline 'Asean Summit to discuss economic recovery, cross-border travel'. Subscribe