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Covid-19 becomes catalyst for ASEAN defence cooperation: Carl Thayer
Linh Pham 08:35, 2020/12/17
The pandemic has prompted joint efforts under the Vietnam’s Chairmanship in the course of unprecedented challenges that threat the 10-nation region of 622 million people.

Covid-19 has given impetus to ASEAN-wide defence cooperation, said Southeast Asia regional specialist Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, Canberra.

 Vietnam's Defenes Minister Ngo Xuan Lich at the 14th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) held on December 9. Photo: MOD

According to the famous professor, in February 2020, ASEAN Defence Ministers were proactive in issuing a Joint Statement on Defence Cooperation against Disease Outbreaks to exchange information and best practices by organizing a tabletop exercise under the ASEAN Center for Military Medicine.

In addition, they vowed to mobilize the Network of ASEAN Chemical, Biological, Radiological Defence Experts to promote cooperation to manage infectious disease outbreaks; to cooperate to counter fake news on the coronavirus; and to work with other relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies as well as national health authorities to combat the pandemic.

In the year, Vietnamese defence senior officials have reiterated that despite the pandemic, as the Chair of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM+ in 2020, Vietnam has not and will not let the Covid-19 disrupt defence cooperation within ASEAN as well as between ASEAN and its dialogue partners.

Commenting it, Prof. Thayer said Vietnam began its term as ASEAN Chair 2020 by hosting the ASEAN Defence Ministers Retreat in Hanoi in February. That meeting adopted a joint statement on defence cooperation to deal with the coronavirus.

In March, Vietnam hosted the 13th annual meeting and 5th retreat of the Track 2 Network of ASEAN Defence and Security Institutions (NADI). Deputy Minister of National Defence, Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh called on NADI to play a proactive role in analyzing, assessing and forecasting risks to defense and security, to suggest responses, and provide consultancy advice on security partnerships for each country and NADI.

Also in March, Vietnam hosted a virtual meeting of the Board of Directors of the ASEAN Center for Military Medicine. Major General Nguyen Xuan Kien, director of the Department of Military Medicine, hosted the meeting. He suggested a joint disease prevention and information exchange exercise among ASEAN military medical forces and professional training to combat Covid-19.

Since March, Covid-19 has prevented ASEAN defence officials from meeting face-to-face. Vietnam had to cancel an ASEAN and international fleet review and an international conference on maritime security due to Covid-19.

Vietnam responded to the Covid-19 challenge by holding virtual meetings. For example, the ASEAN Defence Senior Officials Meeting was held by video conference in May. This meeting discussed an online epidemic response drill.

Lt Gen. Vinh spoke to the meeting about Vietnam’s response including using military barracks to quarantine those infected by the coronavirus, producing Covid-19 test kits, managing border crossings, and sharing information and support with outside countries.

Vietnam also hosted a virtual celebration of the tenth anniversary of the ADMM-Plus at the 7th ADMM-Plus meeting last week.

Notably, the professor commented that the theme “Defence Cooperation for a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN” was entirely appropriate for 2020 because of the pandemic.

He noted that while the ADMM and ADMM-Plus have addressed non-traditional security threats in the past no challenge was more threatening than the coronavirus. The ADMM joint statement in February 2020 was unequivocal that defence ministers “remain resolutely committed to doing our part, and staying united to overcome the Covid-19 outbreak for the benefit of the people of ASEAN.”

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