VIENTIANE: China's foreign minister is set to meet his Southeast Asian peers in Laos on Thursday (Feb 20) for crisis talks over the coronavirus which has seeded panic and constricted economies dependent on the flow of goods and tourists.
Wang Yi will hold talks with counterparts from the 10 Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries in Vientiane in a hastily convened meeting over the health scare.
China's foreign ministry has described the summit as part of a "tradition of supporting each other through thick and thin".
A similar meeting was held in 2003 following the outbreak of SARS.
Originating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the new coronavirus - known as COVID-19 - has killed more than 2,000 people, the majority within China.
The government has locked down tens of millions of people in several virus-hit cities, extended Chinese New Year holidays and pulled flights in a scramble to contain the virus.
Still the health scare has cascaded across Southeast Asia, with cases recorded in the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Explore our interactive: All the COVID-19 cases in Singapore and the clusters and links between them
The Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have restricted flights from the mainland and suspended visa-free arrivals as health screening ramps up at entry points.
Thailand, which has imposed no such restrictions, reported a 90 per cent slump in arrivals from the mainland this month, a gut punch to an already beleaguered tourist sector which makes up nearly a fifth of the economy.
Thailand anticipates a loss of more than US$8 billion by year's end from the tourist tail-off.
In Laos, Beijing will be eager to "project regional solidarity with its anti-pandemic efforts" a Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP, declining to be named.
China sees ASEAN as its backyard and has ramped up economic, diplomatic and cultural influence over recent years with billions of dollars of investment, tourist outflows and a bigger presence at regional summits.
There are fears prolonged disruption by the virus could slow work on the massive China-backed 'Belt and Road' schemes which criss-cross ASEAN.