This year’s ASEAN meet likely virtual

Azlan Othman

ASEAN foreign ministers are comfortable with the ministerial and senior officials meeting being held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof told the media after the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat meeting held via video conference on Thursday.

Physical meetings may be held once everyone is immunised, he said.

Brunei Darussalam is holding the ASEAN Chairmanship this year, and the virtual ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat meeting held virtually on Thursday was the first major meeting under the nation’s chairmanship.

“I asked the foreign ministers how confident they are of getting everyone vaccinated to attend the summit and related summits in Brunei in October.”

Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan said, “Even the World Health Organization (WHO) said no one is safe until everyone is safe, meaning that everyone needs to be immunised. I was not surprised when no one could guarantee that everyone could be immunised by the end of this year. Discussions are still on as it is still early in the year.”

He also said, “Some countries have the vaccine and some do not. The countries having the vaccine are still in the process of inoculating,” adding that the foreign ministers are comfortable with the ministerial and senior officials meeting being held virtually this year.

“Physical meetings may be carried out once everyone is immunised. We are still monitoring the situation and none of the countries could confirm complete immunisation of their citizens by the end of this year,” the minister added.

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

The minister said on the political statement of equitable and equal access of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is a reaffirmation of commitment at multilateral level where each country should have access to the vaccine as there is a rush to get the vaccine with some countries getting more than the others and acquiring more than required.

ASEAN senior officials are looking into purchasing the vaccine for distribution among member countries, the minister said.

On Brunei Darussalam holding the ASEAN Chairmanship this year, he said from the political perspective, this is an opportunity for the country to lead on regional issues.

“People always comment that Brunei Darussalam is small. We in Brunei are geared to push ASEAN’s agenda. Vietnam as ASEAN’s Chair last year came up with a number of initiatives and outcomes.

Brunei Darussalam is looking to put those words into action. The fund (to purchase the vaccine) that we received last year will be used to obtain the vaccine for ASEAN this year,” the minister said.

He added, “We also want to know how people in ASEAN can contribute to ASEAN’s assistance, such as the COVID vaccine or the disaster fund.

“We are looking at the mechanism of how people can contribute to the Central Fund for ASEAN Disaster Relief Fund, which will help ASEAN in the future.”

Dato Seri Setia Awang Haij Erywan added that local arrangements are being made to make the youth aware more appreciative of peace, not only regionally, but also domestically.

He also said, “ASEAN’s success is due to there being no conflict. A lot of our children have never lived in a conflict era, which is good. (However), children do not appreciate it, and this is why we need to instil the understanding and appreciation of peace and volunteerism, and to negotiate through dialogue and consultation.

“ASEAN also benefits Brunei during discussion with dialogue partners on mental health issues which we talk a lot about in the country. We will gain the capacity to address some of our mental health problems and to better handle the problem locally. “

Australia is interested to talk with ASEAN bilaterally. On the social and cultural aspects, they also have their own priorities and deliverables that will bring benefits.”