Southeast Asian foreign ministers have endorsed the setting up of a regional fund to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and discussed a planned video summit of their leaders with counterparts from China, Japan, and South Korea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said Friday that the top diplomats of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations linked up by video Thursday in a meeting led by Vietnam, the country which is holding ASEAN’s annually rotating chairmanship this year.
The move came following growing indications that the regional organization was looking to step up its response to COVID-19, after coming under some criticism for its slow response at the start of the pandemic gripping the globe.
The ministers endorsed several collective steps to fight the pandemic, including the establishment of a COVID-19 ASEAN response fund, the sharing of information, and strategies and ways to ease the impact of the global health crisis on people and the economy, the department said in a statement. It did not provide details.
They also discussed the planned meeting of their leaders with counterparts from China, Japan, and South Korea in a video conference on April 14 to talk about the pandemic, three Southeast Asian diplomats told The Associated Press. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authority to discuss the high-level meeting.
In Thursday’s discussion, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea amid the contagion, the department said.
The Philippines has expressed solidarity with Vietnam after a Vietnamese fishing boat was reportedly rammed and sank by a Chinese coast guard ship in disputed waters near the Paracel islands in the South China Sea.
Vietnam and the Philippines and two other ASEAN member states, Brunei and Malaysia, have been locked in longstanding territorial disputes with China and Taiwan in the strategic waterways, one of the world’s busiest.
By Jim Gomez of The Associated Press.