ASEAN priorities in focus at foreign ministers’ retreat

Azlan Othman

ASEAN’s priorities for the whole year and ways to strengthen the ASEAN community and centrality as well as the advancement of ASEAN’s comprehensive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic were discussed at the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, said Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof yesterday.

“We discussed the regional response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and committed to swiftly implementing the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) and its implementation plan, working towards the timely establishment of the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework (ATCAF) and operationalisation of the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies for Public Health Emergencies (RRMS) and the timely establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED),” he said.

They recognised that the individual efforts undertaken by ASEAN member states are important to the region’s collective efforts to curbing the spread of COVID-19.

The minister said, “We reaffirmed the importance of ensuring fair, equitable and affordable access to safe and quality vaccines and their procurement for all people in ASEAN. We agreed to utilise the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund established last year in the procurement of vaccines, medical supplies and equipment for the people of ASEAN.”

ASEAN ministers also supported Brunei Darussalam’s priorities and deliverables through ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, which focusses on harnessing the caring nature of ASEAN to build a harmonious and resilient community with the people at its centre; preparing and adapting for the future to ensure ASEAN remains relevant and resilient, so its people can overcome existing and future challenges and threats; and creating opportunities for people to benefit through initiatives that enhance the sustainable prosperity of the region.

Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof during the retreat. PHOTO: MFA

The minister said the need for ASEAN to pursue a strategic and holistic initiative to link ASEAN Responses to Emergencies and Disasters (ASEAN SHIELD) across the three ASEAN Community Pillars was underscored, with a view to better shield the society, economy and the broader developmental agenda and to enable a swift and collective response in mitigating impacts of emergencies and disasters.

“We aimed to establish a platform to enable the peoples of ASEAN to contribute to natural disaster relief efforts in the region,” he said.

The ministers stressed the importance of deepening ASEAN economic integration, enhancing intra-ASEAN trade and investment, promoting sustainable development, digital economy and enhancing supply chain connectivity.

They recognised ASEAN’s commitment to sustainable economic development, including efforts in energy security, supporting micro, small and medium entrepresies (MSMEs) and maximising the efficiency of resources such as through cooperation on circular economy and promoting green growth.

In view of the recent inauguration of United States (US) President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the ASEAN ministers look forward to working with the new US administration to further strengthen the strategic partnership for the region’s peace, security, stability and prosperity.

The ministers welcomed the growing number of countries interested to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), on the basis of respect for and in conformity with the purposes and principles of the TAC.

“We looked forward to the accession of Greece, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar in the future,” he said.

They also exchanged views on the changing geo-political dynamics in the regional and global landscape, which could affect the people directly and the situations in other regions, including the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East.

They underscored the need to maintain unity, centrality, and relevance in the region and to collectively address common challenges.

The ministers also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea.

“We underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety,” Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan said.

They welcomed the continuously improving cooperation between ASEAN and China, and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea consistent with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), within a mutually agreed timeline.