The United States has committed to continue to provide generous support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to assist them to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A statement issued by the US Department of State’s Office said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the commitment when launching a US-Asean Health Futures initiative during a video-conferenced US-Asean Special Ministers’ Meeting yesterday.
The special meeting was co-chaired by Laos, as country Coordinator for Asean-US Dialogue Relations.
“We urge all countries to embrace full and transparent information sharing,” Mr Pompeo said.
He said to date, the United States has released more than $35.3 million in emergency health funding to help Asean countries fight the virus, building on the $3.5 billion in public health assistance provided across Asean over the last twenty years.
Mr Pompeo said Asean member states are enduring strategic partners of the US in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and plans for economic recovery.
“We commit to continue our collaboration with Asean to beat this pandemic and get back to the business of building a bright future for the region together,” he said. “We thank our Asean partners for their valuable support in promoting the continued flow of vital medical supplies into the United States, as well as their support for our repatriation flights.”
Mr Pompeo expressed his thanks to Cambodia for helping American passengers of the MS Westerdam cruise ship to safely fly home.
However, he said Beijing is taking advantage of the distraction, especially China’s new unilateral announcement of administrative districts over disputed islands and maritime areas in the South China Sea.
“Even as we fight the outbreak, we must remember the long-term threats to our shared security have not disappeared. In fact, they’ve become more prominent,” Mr Pompeo said.
“We expressed concerns over a scientific report showing Beijing’s upstream dam operations have unilaterally altered flows of the Mekong.” Mr Pompeo said
He said the report found such operations significantly deprived the Mekong countries of water for years, with catastrophic results during the most recent dry season for the 60 million people who depend on the river for food, energy, and transportation. The story of the ties between the billion people of America and Asean is an inspiring, positive one.
“We have faced shared challenges before. Together, we’ve made our people safer and more prosperous. We commit to continue to build for the future based upon the tried and true principles that we share – Asean centrality, openness, transparency, a rules-based framework, good governance, and respect for sovereignty.
In his speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn said Cambodia recognises the importance of sharing information, experiences and best practices in clinical treatment to combat the pandemic.
“We need to move to more action-oriented exchanges of technical experts and knowledge, and pro-actively explore joint research and development in medicine,” a ministry statement quoted him as saying.
Mr Sokhonn said there is a need to enhance collaboration from the media outlets to stop the spread of misinformation which cause public panic, discrimination and accusation.
“We should praise the efforts and leading role of the WHO as a respectable world health entity in providing information, training, recommendations and guidance for the greater cause of mankind,” he said.
Mr Sokhonn said Asean and the US should explore ways to strategically ensure the openness of regional and global supply chains as well as the cross-border flow of vital goods, especially food and medical supplies.
“Cambodia has tried to minimise the negative impacts of this pandemic on our economy as well as to prepare for the recovery phase by keeping factories running and thus preventing workers from losing their jobs,” he said.
Mr Sokhonn added the meeting also touched upon regional issues pertaining to peace and security in the region and beyond.
Chheang Vannarith, president of Asian Vision Institute, said yesterday Asean welcomes the support provided by the US in tackling the pandemic.
The US used the special foreign ministers’ meeting on COVID-19 to attack China on the issues of the South China Sea and the Mekong River, he said.
“These two issues are sensitive security concerns between China and some Asean member countries and the US is going to increase its interventions in these two issues to challenge China’s increasing political clout in Southeast Asia,” Mr Vannarith said.