KUALA LUMPUR: An intergovernmental group of Asian countries on Thursday pledged support to China in its fight against the killer coronavirus outbreak.
Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) declared their “solidarity” in working to reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic on the region.
“ASEAN expressed its confidence that China would be able to handle the outbreak, however, each ASEAN country offers their help to China to address the crisis together,” said the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Saifuddin Abdullah.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), being held in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, he added: “There are impacts, especially economic impacts. We will work together to overcome this.”
The minister pointed out that the association had pinpointed a need to strengthen information exchange between ASEAN and China. He said that it was still unclear how the virus was being spread, which was “all the more reason for us to exchange notes.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged nations to strengthen people-to-people cooperation in the region, as ASEAN ministers and Chinese officials held hands while chanting, “stay strong, Wuhan. Stay strong, China. Stay strong, ASEAN.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that more than 77,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, the majority of them in China.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News on Thursday that the special China-ASEAN meeting sent a strong message to the world that the region was taking the virus outbreak “very seriously. These countries are seeking a more collaborative approach in handling the matter. Hopefully, it could at least improve the mechanism of sharing timely information and best practices in countering the outbreak.”
Thomas Daniel, senior analyst at the Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said the main outcome of the meeting was “regional solidarity” and cultivating a sense of confidence-building in the wider region.
“It is more about the images and messaging than it is about concrete actions putting forward,” he added.
Daniel noted that China had been very appreciative of the support shown by ASEAN for the ongoing health crisis and said: “The emergency meeting definitely could have been done earlier. In cases like this, most of the time reactions are ‘nation first.’ It takes time for a multilateral approach to take place.”
However, ASEAN member states have so far been uncoordinated in implementing preventive measures to stop the virus’ spread.
While Malaysia won praise from the WHO and Singapore was lauded by Harvard University experts on Tuesday, Cambodia on Feb. 14 allowed hundreds of passengers on the Westerdam cruise ship to disembark in the port of Sihanoukville. Days later, coronavirus infections were reported among those who were allowed to go ashore.