Pandemic, South China Sea in focus at ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Sep 9 (efe-epa).- The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and external partners began a virtual meeting on Wednesday in which they were expected to address the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, among other matters.

“2020 will end in just four months while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in a complex manner, and our people and businesses continue to be outstretched by its repercussions,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, whose country holds the rotating presidency this year, said at the inauguration.

In a speech broadcast on social media networks, Nguyen advocated joining efforts to combat the pandemic and to stimulate the economies of the region, hard hit by the restriction measures against COVID-19.

Although countries like Thailand and Vietnam have kept the spread of the virus in check, other countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia have each surpassed 200,000 cases, including thousands of deaths.

Due to restrictive measures, including the closure of borders, the main economies of the region slumped in the second quarter of the year, with the exception of Vietnam, which grew 0.4 percent.

Thailand entered a recession as its GDP fell in two consecutive quarters, with a drop of 12.2 percent in the second, while the Malaysian economy plunged by more than 17 percent between April and June.

Meanwhile, tensions in the South China Sea between China and ASEAN nations continue to concern the region.

“The regional geo-political and geo-economic landscape, including the South China Sea, are witnessing growing volatilities that are detrimental to peace and stability,” added the Vietnamese prime minister.

For years, ASEAN and China have been negotiating a code of conduct to avoid violent clashes in the Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely against Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Chinese ships have been involved in skirmishes with vessels of other nations in the disputed waters, which are rich in natural resources and act as a strategic shipping passage.

In July, the United States declared illegal China’s land claims, mainly over the Spratly and Paracel islands, prompting anger from Beijing, which accused Washington of inciting confrontation in the region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are scheduled to participate in the ASEAN meeting by video call due to pandemic restrictions.

In addition to ASEAN foreign ministers, their counterparts from the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, New Zealand and Australia, among others, are also scheduled to join meetings between Tuesday and Saturday. EFE-EPA


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