The Latest on Covid-19 in Southeast Asia: July 2, 2020
July 2, 2020
Southeast Asian leaders on June 26 dialed in for the first-ever virtual ASEAN Summit. Covid-19 topped the agenda under the theme of a “Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN.” Leaders sounded the alarm on the human and socioeconomic costs of the pandemic in the region. They agreed to establish an ASEAN Covid-19 response fund to which Thailand has already pledged $100,000. At least three of ASEAN’s partners—China, Japan, and South Korea—are expected to contribute. Leaders also discussed a potential ASEAN regional reserve of medical supplies and a shared set of standard operating procedures for responding to public health emergencies.
Recent tensions in the South China Sea were also a major topic of discussion, with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte noting that “even as our region struggles to contain Covid-19, alarming incidents in the South China Sea occurred.” The ASEAN Chair’s statement introduced new language related to the disputes, affirming that “the 1982 UNCLOS is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones, and the 1982 UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.”
The summit, the first of two biannual ASEAN leaders’ meetings, was initially scheduled for early April but was postponed due to Covid-19. Vietnam hosted as the chair of ASEAN this year. Having successfully managed the spread of the virus at home, Vietnamese authorities initially sought to hold the rescheduled summit in-person. But the continued spread of Covid-19 in other member-states, particularly Indonesia and the Philippines, scuttled those plans.
Patchwork efforts to establish regional travel corridors highlight the disparities in Southeast Asian national responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ahead of the ASEAN Summit, Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo suggested the phased establishment of an ASEAN-wide travel bubble. But those countries in the region that have had more success in containing the pandemic, including Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and more recently Singapore, are instead establishing bilateral travel corridors among themselves and partners outside the region. This is another indication that Indonesia and the Philippines could lag behind, not only in containing the virus but in recovering economically.
Further warning signs came from the IMF, which in late June released adjusted GDP growth projections for 30 countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Growth rates for all four were adjusted downward from the Fund’s last predictions in April, with Indonesia now expected to enter a mild recession in 2020. But the new numbers are particularly bad for the Philippines. Rather than eking out positive growth, as expected in April, the Philippine economy is now expected to shrink 3.6 percent this year.
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