Grete Løchen - Norway’s ambassador to Việt Nam
We all entered the new year with ambitious plans and hopes, as it marks the beginning of a new decade. This year, Việt Nam is assuming a dual role as the Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a non-permanent member of the United National Security Council (UNSC). Norway is going to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our sectoral dialogue partnership with ASEAN and is seeking a seat on the UNSC 2021-22. Then suddenly appeared the coronavirus.
For three months, this tiny virus has turned the world upside down and caused an unprecedented global crisis. It has frozen international travel, closed borders, paused economic activities and confined people all over the world to their homes. It has hit almost every country be it poor, developing or developed, all segments of our society, infecting more than two million people and claiming in excess of 100,000 deaths. Every country is struggling to prevent the virus from spreading. We also know that the most vulnerable in our societies, the elderly, the sick, the migrants, the disabled and the poor are at heightened risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UN Secretary-General, “the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our lifetime. It is above all a human crisis with severe health and socio-economic consequences".
However, the coronavirus has really shown us that the world is interconnected in all aspects, health-wise, socially and economically, and that we need to act together. Never before has so much importance been attached to international co-operation and solidarity.
Look to Việt Nam, learn from Việt Nam
As Norway’s Ambassador to Việt Nam, I am very impressed with what the Government of Việt Nam has done so far to combat the coronavirus nationally, regionally and internationally. Since the very early stage, the country has proactively taken strong actions to isolate and prevent the virus from spreading through information campaigns, medical and administrative measures, such as tracing and testing of people, quarantine arrangements, the closing of schools and the most recent measure of social distancing. These measures seem to be effective as up to now among more than 200 infected cases in Việt Nam, there are no fatalities. Not only health professionals and caregivers who work days and nights to save people’s lives but the whole Government of Việt Nam seems to make every effort to control the pandemic and to support the affected people and businesses in the spirit of “leave no one behind”.
The pandemic is, of course, challenging Việt Nam’s ambitious plans for its ASEAN Chairmanship. However, from what I see, Việt Nam has turned the challenge into an opportunity. The theme of ASEAN 2020 'Cohesive and Responsive' is reflected in the early Chairman’s Statement on ASEAN Collective Response to the Outbreak of COVID-19. Việt Nam has been sharing information and encouraging co-operation regarding COVID-19 within the bloc, and recently took initiative in holding Special ASEAN Summit and Special ASEAN+3 Summit on the COVID-19 response through video conferences. All the participating countries in these summits strongly supported Việt Nam’s call for unity, co-operation and action to combat COVID-19 and maintain connectivity. It is encouraging to see Việt Nam, while trying its best to control the spread of COVID-19 domestically, has started to reach out assisting its neighbouring countries, ASEAN member states and partners with medical equipment and facemasks.
This is solidarity in practice.
Norway – a consistent global partner for our common future
In Norway, we do have more or less the same experience. Timely, accurate and transparent information sharing from the political leadership and professional health authorities as well as showing international solidarity has been key in getting the trust of the Norwegian people in the joint efforts to combat the COVID-19. This is about our common future.
Norway, like Việt Nam, is a staunch supporter of a rule-based international order and a multilateral system with a strong United Nations at its core. Multilateralism unites and gets us all together. For a small nation like Norway, it is our best protection. Norway strongly believes that global threats require global responses. Multilateral and regional organisations already in place such as ASEAN, the European Union, the African Union and in particular the UN with the WHO in the frontline should play a leading role in driving international co-operation and joint efforts to control the COVID-19.
The pandemic hurts everyone, but the poor and vulnerable countries will be most affected. Both urgent humanitarian actions and co-ordinated efforts are more than ever important to mitigate long-term effects. For this reason, Norway took the initiative to propose the establishment of a global trust fund to help vulnerable countries with weak health systems and which might face the devastating socio-economic impact of this crisis. It is great to see the UN acted so quickly on this initiative. The multi-donor trust fund was launched by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 31. Norway initially committed NOK150 million (US$14.5 million). We do hope that other countries will follow suit. The trust fund will promote a co-ordinated UN response at country level in support of national governments. At the same time, we’re in continuous dialogue with key partners (UN agencies and NGOs) on how Norway´s humanitarian support can be best tailored to the response in areas and sectors where needs are greatest. Unearmarked funding is key in this regard.
Norway has initiated and supported global health initiatives for decades. Today, international researchers are working around the clock at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine to combat the virus - a vaccine that should be made for all and distributed fairly. Recently Norway allocated a further NOK2.2 billion ($209 million) in research funding to CEPI. It comes in addition to the NOK1.636 billion ($156 million) that was previously announced. It is now vital that we do what we can to enable CEPI to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus as quickly as possible. We all have to pool our resources, make sure of accurate and transparent information sharing and take co-ordinated, decisive and innovative actions in the spirit of multilateralism and international solidarity to get through this difficult time.
I would like to end by echoing what my Prime Minister Erna Solberg said: “It is not just what we do in our country. It is also what other countries are doing. There’s no way that we can handle this crisis without having a stronger international, multilateral co-operation”. Your Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc also said: “We will win this together”.
* Grete Løchen is Norway’s ambassador to Việt Nam