PM Lee calls for greater cooperation and unity at first virtual Asean Summit

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (above) addressing regional leaders during the Asean Summit on June 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP/MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called for greater economic integration and cooperation and unity among Asean members to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from permanently damaging their economies.

"How Asean countries respond to this crisis will decide whether Asean will forge ahead of the competition or fall behind," he told fellow Asean leaders at their first virtual summit on Friday (June 26).

The 36th Asean Summit, which was postponed in April due to the pandemic, took place via video conference. Asean foreign ministers, including Singapore's Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, also attended the meeting.

In line with the summit's theme, "Cohesive and Responsive Asean", PM Lee proposed three ways to boost cooperation: sharing technologies to contain the virus and curb new infections, procuring equitable, steady and affordable supply of Covid-19 treatments and vaccines when they become available and maintaining the flow of trade.

He invited Asean members to use the TraceTogether app that Singapore developed to enhance contact tracing. It uses Bluetooth signals to record those who have been in close contact with one another.

"We have made it an open-source project so that fellow Asean members and others who want to use or adapt it can do so freely," he said.

Turning to treatment of Covid-19, PM Lee spoke of the need to avoid shortages and improve the supply of affordable and quality vaccines.

He said: "Asean countries should also explore working together to facilitate and promote cooperation to produce and distribute vaccines."

PM Lee told the other leaders that Singapore is not only investing heavily in the research and development of diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics, but also building its vaccine manufacturing capacity, enabling manufacturers to use its facilities to meet the demands in the region.

On trade and the economy, Mr Lee said that the economic consequences of the pandemic "will linger long after the virus has been contained".

He noted that many countries are turning inwards but said an open, stable and integrated Asean will attract investments to the region.

He said: "Asean needs to show the world that we are open for business."

On tourism, a sector badly battered by the pandemic, PM Lee proposed that a protocol be developed to progressively and safely lift the current intra-Asean restrictions on travel.

Singapore has begun to ease the restrictions on travellers from some countries, including those from Asean, he noted, and will further ease them as the public health risk subsides.

Vietnam, the current Asean chair, yesterday also called for solidarity, strong political will and commitment to rise above adversities.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, in his opening address, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic... has swept away the achievements that humankind had accumulated for years, deprived and threatened the lives of millions."

Besides Covid-19, the Asean leaders discussed a broad range of topics including climate change, haze pollution and transnational crime, as well as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade deal involving the 10 Asean members, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

PM Lee on Friday said he was satisfied with the progress of the RCEP, hoping for a date to be fixed soon for all 15 parties to sign the agreement this year.

"A signing of the RCEP will give a boost of confidence that will help our economic recovery," he said.

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