East Asia Summit: PM Lee underlines need for cooperation, peace, stability for region to recover stronger from Covid-19

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed the need for cooperation in promoting vaccine multilateralism, technology sharing and mutual support for economy recovery. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - No nation can tackle the coronavirus crisis alone, and countries big and small have to work together in a conducive strategic environment and through a regional architecture that fosters peace and stability, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he stressed the need for cooperation in promoting vaccine multilateralism, technology sharing and mutual support for economy recovery.

Making these points on Saturday (Nov 14) while he and fellow Asean leaders met with their key partners during the 15th East Asia Summit which was held virtually, PM Lee said: "In the midst of a global pandemic, more than ever, cooperation is needed to bring the spread of Covid-19 under control and rebuild the global economy."

The annual East Asia Summit (EAS) brings together Asean as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, and represents over half the world's population and gross domestic product.

Asean leaders were joined by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the United States was represented by National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and India by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

The EAS plays a key role as the premier forum for dialogue on broad strategic, political and economic issues, and Mr Lee noted that it has become an integral part of the open and inclusive Asean-centric regional architecture.

"Over the years, several concepts of regional engagement have been proposed and discussed. Singapore welcomes greater engagement, but any proposal must support the principles of Asean centrality and unity, and be rooted in an open, inclusive, and rules-based world order underpinned by international law," said Mr Lee, adding that this should also be in line with the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific which guides cooperation in the region.

In his remarks to fellow leaders, Mr Lee raised the need to promote vaccine multilateralism, a point he had raised at separate meetings with fellow leaders at the 37th Asean Summit and related meetings.

"No country is safe until all countries are safe. A working vaccine is part of the solution to enable countries to finally emerge from this crisis," he said, adding that "fortunately" most of the world's leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates come from countries participating in the EAS.

He said Singapore is ready to contribute in this area. It is investing heavily in research and development and building up vaccine manufacturing capacities to meet the region's needs.

Many EAS participating nations have adopted innovative technological solutions such as contact tracing and improving testing capacities, and countries should share this technology to help combat the pandemic, said Mr Lee.

"We should learn from one another's experiences, open source the software codes wherever possible, and encourage interoperability where practical," he said, noting that platforms like the Asean Smart Cities Network can facilitate this exchange of ideas and inculcate a spirit of mutual sharing and support.

Mr Lee also encouraged countries to support one another's economy recovery, which he said would mitigate the longer-term global economic impact of the pandemic on people and businesses.

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

Mr Lee added that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - set to be signed on Sunday - will spur business confidence and boost the region's economic recovery through enhanced market access, comprehensive trade facilitative measures, and expanded commitments in areas such as e-commerce and intellectual property rights.

He added that statements adopted by leaders at the summit symbolised the "strong political will" to address common challenges such as counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and transboundary pollution.

He also welcomed the progress made in negotiations between Asean and China on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, adding that there is "a lot of work ahead" to reach an effective and substantive agreement.

Said Mr Lee: "I am confident that despite the pandemic, EAS Member States will not lose sight of these other priorities," he said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.