East Asia Summit leaders call for greater cooperation to tackle pandemic, economic crisis

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (top second right) addresses his counterparts at the Asean-East Asia Summit on Nov 14, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The need for countries across the Asia-Pacific to cooperate in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the current economic crisis was underlined by leaders at the East Asia Summit (EAS) on Saturday night (Nov 15).

The virtual meeting chaired by Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc also saw several leaders highlight the need to work together to ensure peace and stability as they rebuild their economies.

"No country, no matter how big, can tackle this crisis alone," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"To mount an effective collective response, countries big and small have to work together, in a conducive strategic environment and through a regional architecture that fosters peace and stability."

PM Lee suggested three areas for EAS members to boost cooperation: promote vaccine multilateralism, share technology and support one another's economic recovery.

The EAS brings together Asean's 10 members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

PM Lee noted that a working vaccine is part of the solution towards a recovery, and fortunately, most of the leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates come from EAS members.

"I hope we will all work together to procure an equitable, steady and affordable supply of treatments and vaccines," he said.

Singapore is ready to contribute in this area, he added.

It is investing heavily in vaccine research and development and building up its manufacturing capacity to meet the region's needs.

Addressing EAS leaders, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the UN was working to scale up the production of effective vaccines and therapeutics that "must be available and affordable for everyone, everywhere".

In his speech, PM Lee said many EAS members have adopted innovative technological solutions for contact tracing and improving testing, and countries can share these.

US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien (centre) addresses Asean member states, including Singapore and PM Lee (left, third from top). PHOTO: AFP

"We should learn from one another's experiences, open source the software codes wherever possible, and encourage interoperability where practical," he added.

He also encouraged members to work together to mitigate the longer-term global economic impact of the pandemic on their people and businesses.

"It is critical to uphold a rules-based, open and inclusive multilateral trading system," he said.

He added that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, to be signed today, will spur business confidence and recovery through enhanced market access, comprehensive trade facilitative measures and expanded commitments in areas like e-commerce and intellectual property rights.

The EAS has traditionally also discussed cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism, cyber security and transboundary pollution, and PM Lee said he was glad that statements adopted at the summit showed a strong political will to address such common challenges.

"Regional stakeholders should continue to work together to maintain peace and stability in the region," he added, citing the South China Sea, where maritime disputes should be resolved in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law.

He also welcomed the progress made in Asean-China negotiations on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, adding: "There is a lot of work ahead, and we should keep up the momentum of discussions so that we can conclude an effective and substantive COC."

Asean leaders were joined at the EAS by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, but the US was represented by National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, and India by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.

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