US, Asean are partnering to defeat Covid-19, build resilience, support economic recovery — Michael Pompeo

APRIL 23 — Members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) are enduring strategic partners as we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and plan for economic recovery. We commit to continue our collaboration with Asean to beat this pandemic and get back to the business of building a bright future for the region together.

We thank our Asean partners for their valuable support in promoting the continued flow of vital medical supplies into the United States, as well as their support for our repatriation flights. For example, Vietnam expedited clearances for charter flights to deliver 2.2 million personal protective suits to the United States, and we expect more shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the coming weeks.

Additionally, since the beginning of April, Malaysia facilitated the speedy delivery of over 1.3 million kilogrammes of gloves for US health care workers. Cambodia helped American’s safely return home from the Westerdam cruise ship.

The United States continues to provide generous support to Asean nations to assist them to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. We urge all countries to embrace full and transparent information sharing. Transparency saves lives; suppression puts them at risk. During this meeting, I was pleased to announce the US-Asean Health Futures initiative to enhance our efforts in health security through research, public health, and training the next generation of Asean health professionals.

To date, the United States has released more than US$35.3 million (RM154.9 million) in emergency health funding to help Asean countries fight the virus, building on the US$3.5 billion in public health assistance provided across Asean over the last 20 years.

We also urge authorities to take appropriate measures to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and services to the most vulnerable populations across the Indo-Pacific—including those displaced by violence inside Myanmar.

We call for all to work with the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to make that happen for Rohingya and other displaced persons.

The United States is committed to using all available tools to minimise the economic and social damage from the pandemic and restore global growth. We start from a strong foundation with US$294 billion in two-way goods trade in 2019 and US$273 billion of US Foreign Direct Investment across Asean countries.

The Development Finance Corporation is investing in infrastructure projects across the region. The Usaid-supported Asean Single Window is facilitating greater and greater contactless trade throughout Asean.

The US-Asean Internship Programme continues to expand with openings at many of our biggest companies in the region. The US-AseanN Smart Cities Partnership promotes US private sector engagement in smart city solutions and the digital economy.

We remain committed to sustaining our long-term investments in economic technical assistance and human capacity development through our bilateral Usaid programmes in the Asean member states of Cambodia, Indonesia, LAO PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Given the strong link between illegal wildlife sold in wet markets and zoonotic diseases, the United States has called on the People's Republic of China to permanently close its wildlife wet markets and all markets that sell illegal wildlife. I call on all Asean governments to do the same.

Even as we fight the outbreak, we must remember that the long-term threats to our shared security have not disappeared. In fact, they’ve become more prominent.

Beijing has moved to take advantage of the distraction, from China’s new unilateral announcement of administrative districts over disputed islands and maritime areas in the South China Sea, its sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel earlier this month, and it’s “research stations” on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef.

The PRC continues to deploy maritime militia around the Spratly Islands and most recently, the PRC has dispatched a flotilla that included an energy survey vessel for the sole purpose of intimidating other claimants from engaging in offshore hydrocarbon development.

It is important to highlight how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is exploiting the world’s focus on the Covid-19 crisis by continuing its provocative behaviour. The CCP is exerting military pressure and coercing its neighbors in the SCS, even going so far as to sink a Vietnamese fishing vessel. The US strongly opposes China’s bullying and we hope other nations will hold them to account too.

We expressed concerns over a scientific report showing that Beijing’s upstream dam operations have unilaterally altered flows of the Mekong. The report found that such operations significantly deprived the Mekong countries of water for years, with catastrophic results during the most recent dry season for the 60 million people who depend on the river for food, energy, and transportation.

The story of the ties between the billion people of America and Asean is an inspiring, positive one. We have faced shared challenges before. Together, we’ve made our people safer and more prosperous.

We commit to continue to build for the future based upon the tried and true principles that we share — Asean centrality, openness, transparency, a rules-based framework, good governance, and respect for sovereignty.

Fact Sheet: US-Asean Health Futures

Yesterday, Secretary Pompeo launched the US-Asean Health Futures initiative. Health Futures captures our existing and ongoing work with Asean on public health and lays the groundwork for long-term partnership, targeted assistance, and a renewed focus on our most fundamental resource — the health and wellbeing of our combined one billion people.

Over the last 20 years, the United States has invested over US$3.5 billion in shared health goals in collaboration with Asean nations, representing a historic level of engagement in a serious and sustained way.

This funding lays the foundation for strong public health throughout the region and is the basis for our engagement going forward. Our assistance to Asean continues to be responsive to the region's needs, including as of April 22, US$35.3 million in emergency funding for Asean Member States to combat Covid-19.

We have advanced our shared goals for a healthy future in a wide variety of fields, including HIV/AIDS and other infectious disease control, expanding safe water access, and improving nutrition and maternal and child health.

Together, we are conducting joint health research, strengthening health capacity across the region and working to develop the next generation of human capital. We are also exploring smart city health solutions through the US-Asean Smart Cities Partnership.

Research

Scientific knowledge is fundamental to understanding and diagnosing disease, and the development of new therapeutics. Joint research in the Asean region includes:

  • More than 1,000 research projects over the last ten years, including 300+ active research projects in collaboration between Asean members and 20+ institutes at the US National Institutes of Health;
  • Over US$30 million in direct research funding over the last ten years to universities and government research institutions;
  • Support for HIV prevention trials, microbicide trials, AIDS clinical trials, tuberculosis epidemiology, and infectious disease clinical trials.

Health system capacity

Strong health systems are critical to supporting a vibrant, healthy citizenry and addressing emerging health risks and threats. Collaborative capacity building in Asean includes:

  • Supporting quality health care, services, and coverage for all citizens, especially the most vulnerable;
  • Fostering public-private partnerships to promote healthy populations, especially in the area of diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis. Public-private partnerships between Usaid and US. companies have enabled better detection and treatment of tuberculosis, enabling thousands of patients across Asean to start appropriate treatments for tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis;
  • Controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over 150,000 patients are now on antiretroviral therapy due to joint efforts between the United States and Asean countries. With US support, Vietnam is on track to become the first President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief country to achieve full ownership of its HIV/AIDS response by the end of 2020 by mobilising domestic resources and ensuring sustainable financing;
  • Sustained support to Asean to reduce tuberculosis and malaria in the region. For example, the number of cases of malaria in Laos dropped 70 percent from 2014 to 2017;
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Global Disease Detection Operations Center monitors and reports on outbreaks and their risk to communities around the world, including 44 infectious disease outbreaks across Asean from 2014-2019, reducing the risk of further spread;
  • Usaid is working with the Asean Secretariat to develop a Public Health Emergency Coordination System, bringing together existing AseanN mechanisms, such as the Asean Emergency Operations Centre Network, to prepare for and respond to emerging public health emergencies.

Developing Human capital in health

  • Fostering the next generation of health care professionals is a critical part of our shared goals for a healthy future. Efforts include:
  • Through the newly launched US-Asean Health Futures Alumni Network, we are connecting 2,400 Asean medical and public health visiting scholar and programme alumni to share best practices and directly engage with US experts;
  • Supporting Asean physicians, public health trainees, and science students to learn from US expertise through Fulbright educational exchanges, the International Visitor Leadership Programme, and other citizen exchanges;
  • Training more than 1,300 disease detectives across Asean to track diseases, research outbreaks, and respond to health emergencies;
  • Creating One Health university networks (four country-specific, one regional) to prepare health workforces to prevent, detect, and respond to the threat of infectious diseases, which have trained more than 10,000 students and professionals since 2014;
  • Promoting telehealth and e-records to help cities and healthcare professionals deliver services and information efficiently.

* Michael Pompeo is the US Secretary of State

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.