Russia-ASEAN strategic partnership in action amid Covid-19

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit last year. instead of creating new formats, we should focus on efficient use of the existing ones, such as the East Asia Summit (EAS). AFP

On June 17, foreign ministers of ASEAN member states and Russia held a special meeting via video conference to discuss current tasks on countering unprecedented challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and its adverse impact on the political and economic landscape of the Asia-Pacific region and the whole world.

They unanimously adopted a substantial eight-page joint statement pointing out clearly how we as strategic partners define our common approaches to the complexity of problems we face now and what practical measures we are going to undertake.

As the ministers of ASEAN member states and Russia agreed, Covid-19 demonstrated that security, economic development, health and wellbeing of all nations in the region are closely interconnected. And this is probably the most valuable lesson we have to learn, because the main questions now are what we want to see in the region after the pandemic and what we have to do now to make a better world all around.

All the participants underlined that multilateralism – the great achievement of nations of the last decades – is at stake now and we must uphold it by all means. In this regard, ASEAN and Russia share the belief that in these turbulent times we should stand together and undertake collective actions to address the humanitarian, health, social and economic consequences of the pandemic.

To this end, our ministers in their statement reaffirmed commitment “to maintain a politically peaceful and stable region, where national security cannot be ensured at the expense of others”. They also supported the appeal by the UN secretary-general for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world and the waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacities to respond to the pandemic.

ASEAN and Russia emphasised the coordinating role of the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in countering the Covid-19 pandemic and other diseases.

Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia’s support of ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture. We are certain that this architecture should be built upon ASEAN-led mechanisms and based on shared values, norms and principles of international law, equality and mutual benefit.

Instead of creating new formats, we should focus on efficient use of the existing ones, such as the East Asia Summit (EAS). ASEAN ministers supported our initiative to adopt an EAS Leaders’ Statement on Strengthening Collective Capacity in Epidemics Prevention and Response at the 15th EAS summit in November this year.

We are confident that the establishment of a relevant EAS mechanism will be a step toward enhancing practical cooperation on pandemic preparedness in the region, which will unite all the countries around ASEAN.

Another mechanism that can contribute more to regional efforts in fighting pandemics is the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus with its Experts’ Working Group on Military Medicine and the ASEAN Centre of Military Medicine. Russia already joined ASEAN within the ADMM plus framework for a relevant table-top exercise last May.

Appreciating the Russian initiatives to engage effectively the ASEAN-led mechanisms in response to infectious diseases, our ASEAN friends, including Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, expressed the view that Russia could play the role of “anchor” of the relevant collective efforts.

Another topic that was discussed in detail is the engagement of ASEAN-Russia mechanisms of strategic partnership in mitigating the consequences of pandemics. In this regard, our ministers agreed to enhance communication and interaction between ASEAN member states and Russian agencies responsible for prevention and control of infectious diseases.

They will share information and best practices on vaccine development, medications for treatment, diagnostic tools and other issues in close coordination and cooperation with the WHO. Russia will also continue training courses for ASEAN specialists at the International Research Centre for the Study of Biosafety and Human Well-being in the Asia-Pacific region in Vladivostok. The first such courses were held at the end of last year, before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Russia welcomed the establishment of the Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund and agreed to contribute to achieving the goals of this mechanism through swift mobilisation and utilisation of the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership Financial Fund for joint ASEAN-Russia projects to ensure health protection of the peoples.

Our ministers discussed the adverse sociocultural impact of Covid-19 and agreed to step up cooperation to counter misinformation and fake news regarding Covid-19 as well as to prevent and mitigate stigmatisation and discrimination against citizens of affected countries. This will help us to promote mutual trust and openness in the region.

Covid-19 brought serious damage to the economy, undermining trade and finances, injuring micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and tourism, and disrupting development of all countries. Both ASEAN and Russia understand the necessity to find new opportunities to expedite the post-pandemic economic recovery process.

The ministers agreed to strengthen dialogue between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union and within the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which also includes the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The common agenda covers long-term resilience, financial stability, food security, restored connectivity and supply chains, open markets, the digital economy and innovations. All these issues should be addressed multilaterally, in line with World Trade Organisation rules.

The world and the Asia-Pacific region would not be the same after the Covid-19 pandemic. But together we can work toward making it better for the wellbeing and prosperity of the people, democratisation of international relations, unity and stability for all.

Just a few days after the ASEAN-Russia foreign ministers meeting, on June 21 all Russian citizens marked our national Day of Medical Workers. I wonder if our ASEAN friends may think of establishing the same professional high day – ASEAN Day of Medical Workers, thus paying tribute to those who selflessly help other people, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.

Alexander Ivanov is Russian ambassador to ASEAN.