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ASEAN, US agree to continue prioritising COVID-19 response, support for sustainable recovery

Foreign ministers of ASEAN member countries and the US agreed to continue prioritising the COVID-19 response and support for sustainable recovery during a meeting held via videoconference on August 4.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration of President Joe Biden attaches importance to the strategic partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and supports the bloc’s solidarity, unanimity and centrality, along with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

It wants to promote the dynamic and effective strategic partnership with ASEAN on the basis of mutual respect and jointly building an open and inclusive regional architecture of prosperous development, he said.

Blinken affirmed that the US will keep taking the lead in promoting multilateral cooperation in COVID-19 response and increase the production capacity to ensure sufficient supply of safe and effective vaccines.

The US has provided funding of 160 million USD and will continue assisting countries in the region to cope with the pandemic, he said, adding that it will donate 500,000 USD to the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund.

As the coordinator of ASEAN - US relations, Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith applauded the US’s commitment to bolstering its cooperation with ASEAN and the region, advocating multilateral cooperation, helping to improve the healthcare capacity of, and providing vaccines for ASEAN countries.

He also spoke highly the US’s temporary waiver on vaccine patents within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) framework.

Participating countries welcomed the recent cooperation progress despite adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bilateral trade reached 308.3 billion USD in 2020, turning the US into the second largest trade partner of ASEAN. Besides, the US remains the biggest foreign direct investor in the region with 34.7 billion USD.

ASEAN and the US agreed to continue giving priority to the pandemic response and supporting sustainable recovery, focusing on stronger cooperation in trade, investment, digital transformation, and energy and via the US-funded development cooperation programmes for the region.

ASEAN countries hope that the US will continue assisting them in COVID-19 vaccine research, development, production, and distribution. The US also proposed enhancing cooperative ties in such fields as energy, transport, women empowerment, and environment - climate change so as to contribute to even and sustainable recovery efforts.

Pointing out that the international and regional situation remains complex with new challenges arising, the two sides affirmed close coordination to help maintain regional peace, security, and stability, including security and safety of navigation in the East Sea

The US emphasised its support for ASEAN’s principled stance on the East Sea issue, welcoming the bloc bringing into play its role in promoting cooperation, dialogue, and trust building in the region, ensuring the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), and building an efficient and effective Code of Conduct (COC) in the East Sea in line with international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with the rights and legitimate interests of relevant parties respected and properly mentioned.

The US Secretary of State lauded ASEAN’s role and efforts to step up dialogue and reconciliation in Myanmar and help the country seek solutions to stabilise its situation. He also underlined support for the bloc to successfully carry out the Five-Point Consensus reached at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting on April 24, 2021.

Addressing the meeting, Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son welcomed the US’s extensive and intensive cooperation with ASEAN, stressing the country’s important role in global efforts against COVID-19 and climate change.

He highly valued the US’s provision of vaccines for ASEAN nations, including Vietnam, asking it to keep assisting the bloc to gain timely and sufficient access to vaccines and soon transfer vaccine production technology to the bloc’s members.

Vietnam expects the US to help the regional countries improve their preventive medicine capacity via its regional representative office based in Vietnam, he said.

The ASEAN countries are ready to create optimal conditions for US enterprises to expand investment and business in the region, Son noted, asking the US to continue helping the bloc narrow the development gap and ensure sustainable growth in ASEAN sub-regions, including the Mekong sub-region, and via the Mekong - US Partnership.

The Vietnamese minister affirmed that countries, including ASEAN and the US, share interests and responsibilities in maintaining peace, stability, security, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea.

He underlined that all parties need to show their goodwill of cooperation, act responsibly, and jointly work towards the East Sea of peace, stability, security, safety, and protected environment.

Son also highlighted ASEAN’s consistent stance on the East Sea, stressing the importance of building trust, exercising self-restraint, not militarising, peacefully resolving disputes on the basis of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, promoting the full and effective implementation of the DOC, and soon finalising an effective and practical COC in line with international law and the 1982 UNCLOS.

He expects that the US will continue playing a constructive role, supporting ASEAN’s efforts to sustain peace, stability, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea, and backing the bloc’s efforts to seek solutions to the Myanmar situation.

At the end of the event, part of the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and related meetings, Indonesia officially assumed the role as coordinator of ASEAN - US relations for the 2021 - 2024 period./.