A summit convened online . . .
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, chaired by Vietnam, was held virtually on Friday after being postponed in April due to COVID-19. The ASEAN Summit is a biannual, high-profile meeting held by ASEAN members to discuss economic, political, security, and socio-cultural issues facing Southeast Asian countries, strengthen regional co-operation, and show regional unity. ASEAN leaders discussed regional responses to COVID-19, the economic fallout, and the possibility of lifting intra-ASEAN travel restrictions. Territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea were also high on the agenda.
Reaffirming commitments to COVID-19 fight . . .
ASEAN leaders reaffirmed their commitments to the high-priority establishment of an ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund to help the members purchase medical supplies and protective equipment, with financial support from ASEAN partners, namely China, Japan, and South Korea. The leaders also addressed the bleak economic outlook post-COVID as Southeast Asia’s growth is expected to contract by 2.7 per cent in 2020, a sharp drop from 4.4 per cent growth in 2019. Although some members pushed for an easing of intra-ASEAN travel restrictions, it is uncertain whether the bloc will develop guidelines on intra-regional travel soon due to the danger of a second wave of COVID-19 and member countries being at different stages of the pandemic.
Seeking tougher stance over South China Sea . . .
ASEAN leaders stressed “the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea” in their final vision statement. The inclusion of “freedom of overflight” has sent a strong message to China, which earlier this week insisted on establishing an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea in which a country reserves the right to identify and locate aircraft in the interest of national security. The freedom of overflight issue might further delay ASEAN-China negotiations over a Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea, which before the coronavirus pandemic had a deadline for conclusion of 2021. The peace, security, and stability of Southeast Asia and the South China Sea are critical to the functioning of global supply chains, and ASEAN as a bloc is central to Canada’s trade diversification post-COVID.
- Channel News Asia: PM Lee calls for greater ASEAN co-operation amid fight against COVID-19
- Nikkei Asian Review: ASEAN stresses freedom of overflight above South China Sea
- South China Morning Post: South China Sea disputes, Rohingya refugees on agenda at ASEAN meeting