Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN. — Photo asean.org
Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN, talks to Vietnam News Agency on his hopes for successful outcomes regarding post-pandemic recovery policies and trade deals at the upcoming 37th Summit of the regional bloc.
It has been almost a year since the COVID-19 pandemic started. What are the changes you see happening in ASEAN countries? How has ASEAN kept its working agenda running this year despite the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most severe challenges confronting ASEAN since the Asian Financial Crisis. It has affected both lives and livelihoods. Within and across the ASEAN region, a whole-of-community response is being mobilised. Cross-sectoral coordination is ramped up, and information sharing intensified. Governments, the private sector, and civil societies are working closely to safeguard the well-being of the people.
At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in the region. Many activities and events are now conducted online, and we are witnessing more ASEAN peoples gradually embracing digitalisation. The turn to virtual platforms has actually brought the ASEAN Community closer to our targeted audience.
On the part of the ASEAN Secretariat, we have activated online channels and platforms to ensure continuous communication with and among the Member States, ASEAN external partners and stakeholders. This has helped the region to stay connected and coordinated throughout the pandemic crisis, and ensure timely responses.
How has ASEAN prepared for the 37th Summit and related meetings? What’s on the main agenda for this important event?
Under the chairmanship of Việt Nam, preparations for the 37th ASEAN Summit have been progressing smoothly. Twenty-nine high-level meetings and activities are scheduled from 9 to 15 November 2020. There will also be the 23rd ASEAN Plus Three Summit and the 15th East Asia Summit, as well as summits between ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners. The 4th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit will also be held.
In addition, two special meetings would be convened – the ASEAN-New Zealand Commemorative Summit to celebrate 45 years of partnership and the inaugural ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit, to recognise the role and contributions of women towards a gender-equal ASEAN Community.
Other notable events to be launched and reported at the ASEAN Summit include: the Mid-term Review of ASEAN Community Vision 2025 Blueprints; ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, and Launching of the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies.
We are also very excited with the progress on the proposed establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases which would enhance the region’s medical and epidemiology expertise and capacity to prevent, manage and mitigate future epidemics and pandemics.
What do you expect from these meetings? What do their outcomes mean for ASEAN in the current challenging context and its future development?
The ASEAN Summit is the highest decision-making body in the region. The Leaders’ deliberation and decision will set the tone for the work of ASEAN, as well as ASEAN’s engagement with our Dialogue Partners.
High on the agenda is the Leaders’ endorsement of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and its Implementation Plans, which will serve as the whole-of-community exit strategy to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are also expecting constructive outcomes from the RCEP negotiations to provide a significant boost to market confidence, which is much needed amid the pressures of COVID-19 and general uncertainties on the region’s economy. In addition, we also expect to see outcomes on the discussions of ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement, to facilitate the safe resumption of people-to-people connectivity in the region.
These measures represent ASEAN’s collective response towards “normality” in the post-COVID-19 era in a safe and sustained manner, factoring into consideration the national health and travel protocols of each member state.
ASEAN’s work on Community-building continues apace with the Mid-Term Reviews of the APSC, AEC and ASCC Blueprints, and the Master Plan on the ASEAN Connectivity 2025.
Beyond ASEAN, we will continue to strengthen relations with external partners, and will be adopting Plans of Action with Canada, India, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and United States to elevate these bilateral partnerships to greater heights. — VNS