ASEAN ministers try to forge united front against Covid-19

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Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn participates in the ASEAN-Japan Ministerial Meeting via video conference on August 3. FOREIGN MINISTRY

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn called on ASEAN to help alleviate the plight of the poor, including Cambodians, who have been severely impacted economically by Covid-19.

“While ASEAN is grappling with Covid-19 and its severe impacts which hit people hardest who live on society’s margins, collective efforts are needed to mitigate their difficulties and maintain progress in poverty reduction and prevent backsliding,” Sokhonn was quoted as saying on August 3.

Sokhonn made these remarks while attending the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on August 2 via video conference.

He called on ASEAN to ensure sustainable economic recovery and growth for the region, including through the creation of the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework and the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED).

He said they must also ensure that ASEAN’s engagement with external partners is supportive of the policy of ASEAN centrality and in line with ASEAN’s principles, including those defined under ASEAN’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

The ministry’s press release said the ministers discussed ways to strengthen the implementation of various regional initiatives—including the Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund, the establishment of the ACPHEED, the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement, and the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework — with a view to overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic and addressing the socio-economic impacts caused by the ongoing crisis.

The ASEAN member states all emphasised the need to undertake collective and inclusive actions with a resilient approach to address immediate challenges – in particular, to end the Covid-19 pandemic and to secure speedy economic recovery of the region.

“In this regard, the meeting agreed to expedite the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and its implementation plan as well as other agreed key initiatives such as the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement with the goal of ensuring that ASEAN emerges more resilient from the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the press release.

The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to promoting regionalism and multilateralism as well as reinforcing an open, transparent, inclusive, and rules-based regional architecture with ASEAN at its centre for addressing common challenges based on mutual interests and benefits.

The ASEAN foreign ministers emphasised ASEAN’s commitment to upholding human rights a part of its agenda, and to protect and promote the fundamental freedoms of the ASEAN peoples.

They encouraged ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR) to be more proactive in their mandate to promote and protect human rights in ASEAN, in particular in this difficult Covid-19 pandemic era.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, told The Post on August 3 that ASEAN has put in place a number of mechanisms to help people affected by Covid-19 and has established the ASEAN Fund for Economic Recovery to help within that context and beyond.

“However, ASEAN mostly has put in place documents and agreements rather than practices,” he said.

Asian Vision Institute president Chheang Vannarith told The Post on August 3 that supporting the most vulnerable groups during the public health crisis and economic recession is one of the key areas for regional cooperation.

“ASEAN has developed a regional comprehensive recovery plan but implementation remains an issue. Hence, ASEAN needs to enforce the responsible implementation of all policies related to the post-pandemic socio-economic recovery,” he said.

Vannarith added that projects for narrowing the development gaps within each country and between the ASEAN member states needed to receive a bigger financial boost.