Asean defence ministers pledge to work together on infectious diseases

Participants of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting Retreat in Hanoi on Feb 19, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Asean defence ministers have pledged to work together to manage infectious disease outbreaks as several member states continue to grapple with the coronavirus.

At the end of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) Retreat in Hanoi on Wednesday (Feb 19), the group adopted a joint statement on Defence Cooperation Against Disease Outbreaks, said Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef).

The joint statement, which was co-sponsored by Vietnam and Singapore, reaffirmed the grouping's commitment to promote defence cooperation, including cooperation in military medicine through the Asean Centre for Military Medicine, and with external partners to organise information and sharing of best practices.

It said that the ministers also agreed to use the network of Asean chemical, biological and radiological defence experts to enhance professional linkages and promote scientific cooperation to manage infectious disease outbreaks.

The ministers discussed the impact of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on the region, said Mindef.

The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan in central China, has spread elsewhere, including to several countries in the region, with confirmed cases reported in a number of Asean members - Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines.

The Mindef statement also said the ministers expressed support for Vietnam's ADMM and ADMM-Plus chairmanship, discussed the ADMM's progress since its establishment, and exchanged views on the regional and global security environment.

"It was important that we expressed that all defence establishments are committed to remain together as one Asean, that we would not be divided, that we understood that when individual countries take actions it is to protect their own people, it is not to retaliate," Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a statement.

"More importantly, we have to collaborate to deal with this viral outbreak and that the fight was against the virus and not each other."

The ADMM Retreat is an informal meeting among the defence ministers of the 10 Asean member states. The ADMM-Plus includes eight other countries which are dialogue partners of Asean - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

This year is the 10th since the ADMM-Plus was established.

Dr Ng said that the ADMM and ADMM-Plus platforms have become entrenched in this part of the world. "That is a significant achievement because Asean, by accomplishing this, has shown that it is relevant and credible."

Dr Ng attended the Asean-Australia Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting on Wednesday, where his Australian counterpart, Ms Linda Reynolds, spoke about security challenges in the region.

She also affirmed Australia's commitment to strengthening the Asean-Australia relationship, while the Asean defence ministers expressed their support for Australia's continued efforts to deepen engagement with Asean through ADMM-Plus, said Mindef.

Dr Ng was accompanied by Permanent Secretary for Defence Chan Heng Kee, and other Mindef and Singapore Armed Forces officials on his three-day trip to Vietnam that began on Tuesday.

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