SINGAPORE: Singapore will contribute S$7.9 million worth of medical supplies to an ASEAN stockpile, announced Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 38th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on Tuesday (Oct 26).
In his comments at the summit, which was held via video conference, Mr Lee stressed the need for ASEAN nations to work together to “emerge stronger and more resilient” from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Singapore fully supports ASEAN’s collective effort to prepare for future public health emergencies. We will contribute S$7.9 million worth of medical supplies to the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies,” he announced.
Given these “difficult times”, Mr Lee also noted the need to work even harder on economic integration, and ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
“The RCEP will boost confidence in regional trade and investment and contribute significantly towards the region’s post-pandemic economic recovery,” he said.
"I look forward to the swift ratification of the RCEP by all ASEAN Member States and partners, for the agreement to enter into force by January 2022 as planned.”
ASEAN countries must also progressively reopen its economies and resume safe travel as they bring COVID-19 under control, Mr Lee noted. This, he said, is an important aspect of living with COVID-19.
“Singapore has launched vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) to facilitate the quarantine-free entry of fully vaccinated visitors. We welcome the adoption of the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework, and the development of interoperable digital solutions to enable travel to resume safely,” explained Mr Lee.
“We encourage the development of digital health certificates for proof of testing and vaccination, and further progress on the mutual recognition of such certificates, which will greatly facilitate travel.”
IMPROVING ACCESS TO VACCINES
With the COVID-19 pandemic remaining a key challenge after two years, ASEAN nations must work together to improve access to vaccines, added Mr Lee.
“Vaccines are critical in breaking the chain of viral transmission, and more importantly, to prevent serious illnesses and deaths,” he said.
“As co-chair of the Friends of the COVID19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, Singapore is strongly committed to vaccine multilateralism and fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries.”
Mr Lee pointed out that Singapore has donated its vaccine allocation through the COVAX Facility to other countries, and welcomes ASEAN’s decision to use the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to purchase vaccines.
“Singapore will contribute our allocation to other ASEAN Member States and the ASEAN Secretariat. Singapore stands ready to work with ASEAN Member States to ensure the swift and equitable distribution of vaccines within the region,” said Mr Lee.
“For instance, we are ramping up our cold chain logistics services and expanding our vaccine manufacturing capabilities, with three new vaccine production facilities in the pipeline.”
In addition, Mr Lee said that ASEAN nations must look ahead and strengthen cooperation in new growth areas such as digitalisation and use of information and communications technology.
“COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in business and society. We should exploit existing mechanisms such as the ASEAN Smart Cities Network to share experiences and best practices on using technologies to build a more sustainable future together. Relying more on technology also means we need more robust cybersecurity measures,” he said.
“For example, strengthening our regional cyber resilience through protecting Critical Information Infrastructure protection and conducting capacity-building programmes, including through the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence.”
A TURBULENT YEAR FOR ASEAN
Speaking at the 39th ASEAN Summit, Mr Lee touched on US-China relations.
Noting that it is been a "turbulent" year for ASEAN, he pointed out that it has and will continue to face difficult challenges from geopolitical tensions as well as competition between the major powers, he said.
"We need to respond effectively to these challenges. ASEAN must remain a platform that fosters trust and cooperation, including with the major powers. It must keep its role as the centre of an open and inclusive regional architecture."
When it comes to US and China relations, Mr Lee noted that its trajectory will be a "decisive factor" influencing regional and international peace and stability for many years to come.
"Singapore, like many countries in the region, wants to have good relationships with both US and China," said Mr Lee.
"We neither wish to see the region becoming an arena for rivalry and conflict, nor do we want to be forced to take sides. At the same time, we hope both the US and China will deepen substantive engagement with countries in the region on their own merits, beyond the lens of US-China competition."
At the ASEAN-China summit later in the day, Mr Lee also noted China’s "swift and consistent support" of ASEAN’s COVID-19 response, including its contribution to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund.
"This has helped ASEAN to procure much needed vaccines for its people. COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic we will face," he said.
"Therefore, we look forward to the implementation of the ASEAN-China Public Health Cooperation Initiative. This will, among other things, facilitate information and data exchange on health-related matters. Such efforts are crucial to strengthen our collective capacities to mitigate future public health emergencies."
When it comes to post-pandemic recovery, there is also a need for cooperation, said Mr Lee.
"We must redouble our efforts to revive economic activity and people-to-people linkages, which suffered during the pandemic," he added.
"In particular, we should enhance the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement and upgrade the ASEAN-China Air Transport Agreement. As vaccine rollouts continue apace, we must progressively resume cross-border travel gradually and safely, including through greater flight connectivity and the mutual recognition of health certificates."
Moving forward, ASEAN and the US should expand their partnership to other non-traditional domains, including digital infrastructure, cybersecurity, and climate change, said Mr Lee.
Speaking at the 9th ASEAN-US summit, Mr Lee noted that ASEAN’s digital economy is expected to reach US$200 billion by 2025, and that the region is "ripe" for a technological revolution, and this represents promising opportunities for both American and ASEAN companies to work together to ride this wave.
"At the same time, there is much that we can do to collaborate and develop green and sustainable economies. Climate change is an existential issue for mankind," Mr Lee said.
"I thank President Biden for his leadership in convening the Leaders’ Summit on Climate in April and Look forward to exchanging views on climate action at COP26 next week."