Asean defence ministers yesterday pledged to work together to manage infectious disease outbreaks as several member states continue to grapple with the coronavirus.
The move came as Asean and the Chinese foreign ministers were due to meet on a regional response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Today, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will attend the special meeting of the Asean Coordinating Council and an Asean-China Special Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement yesterday.
In Hanoi yesterday, the defence ministers 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 at the end of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) Retreat, reaffirmed the grouping's commitment to promote defence cooperation, including cooperation in military medicine and with external partners to organise information and sharing of best practices.
It said 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, China, has spread elsewhere, including several countries in the region, with confirmed cases reported in a number of Asean members.
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 defence ministers of the 10 Asean member states.
The ADMM-Plus includes eight other countries which are dialogue partners of Asean. This year is the 10th since the ADMM-Plus was established.
Dr Ng attended the Asean-Australia Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting yesterday, where his Australian counterpart, Ms Linda Reynolds, spoke about security challenges in the region.
She affirmed Australia's commitment to strengthening the Asean-Australia relationship.