Hun Sen Calls for Greater Integration at ASEAN Summit on COVID-19

Prime Minister Hun Sen partakes in a video conference with the ASEAN+3 member states to address the COVID-19 pandemic on April 14. Photo: Hun Sen's Facebook page.
  • Phoung Vantha and Sao Phal Niseiy
  • April 14, 2020 5:18 AM

The Cambodian prime minister today called on ASEAN member states to show more unity and share resources in the fight against COVID-19.

PHNOM PENH--Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday called on ASEAN countries to unite together in fighting against Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a common cause. His comments came during an ASEAN Special Summit on COVID-19, where a video conference hosted all ASEAN members on April 14.

Hun Sen said the Cambodian government strongly supports regional measures to tackle the transboundary issue of public health. 

He said that COVID-19 is a new disease and that the full extent of its impact remains unknown. As such, Hun Sen argued that ASEAN needs to enhance the exchange and sharing of best practices, information, data, techniques, experiences and medical knowledge on the disease in the field of preventing, controlling, diagnosing, treating and monitoring.

The ASEAN region, like many other regions around the world, has witnessed widespread disruption due the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 20,000 cases of the virus leading to over 800 deaths throughout the bloc as of April 13. 

A trend has emerged where more economically developed ASEAN member states have recorded more cases of the virus, but this has largely been attributed to having conducted more testing. Cambodia’s Ministry of Health on April 13 claimed to have conducted 8,909 tests for the virus since January 2020.

The projection of regional economic growth has been reduced from 4.7 percent to 1 percent for 2020 due to the pandemic, according to Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. Vietnam in particular has been praised by the World Health Organization for a rapid mobilization of resources that has seen the country record just 265 cases of the virus with no deaths.

Previously, Hun Sen has lauded the policies of non-interference that were enshrined in ASEAN upon its founding in 1967, but more recently Hun Sen relied on an interpretation of the bloc’s non-interference norms to he warn other ASEAN members about granting former-opposition leader Sam Rainsy safe passage to the region in November 2019. 

However, in the face of COVID-19, Hun Sen suggested that strengthening existing mechanisms for cooperation – both within ASEAN and with international organizations – will be key when tackling public health issues.

He also urged ASEAN members to foster and cultivate a culture of sharing, arguing that the bloc should strive for a unified spirit to relieve pressures on national budgets.

“In this spirit, the Royal Government of Cambodia would like to express our highest appreciation for the establishment of a ‘COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund’ in addressing necessary needs of medical equipment and supplies for instance,” said Hun Sen.

“We have to avoid racial discrimination and the attitude of blame game, which can lead to a breakup of unity, while the rest of the world is trying to remain united in fighting against COVID-19,” he said, adding that ASEAN must find a strategy for economic recovery after the pandemic is controlled.

He went on to call for greater integration within the region and called upon ASEAN member states to promote each other’s micro, small and medium enterprises, along with the need to further develop a shared digital economy.

As of April 14, Cambodia has officially reported 122 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths, but the economic impact has seen the World Bank downgrade the country’s gross domestic product growth to as low as 1 percent for 2020 in a worst case scenario. The World Bank did however note that economic growth of 2.5 percent was more likely for Cambodia in 2020.


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