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Draft statements seen by GMA News Online outlining?the ASEAN's summit by video conference on Friday?show that Southeast Asian leaders will discuss a post-pandemic recovery plan, regional health cooperation and the territorial rifts in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The?leaders, according to draft statements expected to be issued at the end of the meeting led by this year’s chairman Vietnam, “noted with grave concern the human and socio-economic costs caused by COVID-19.”

With the economic fallout from the pandemic, diplomats and Philippine officials said the setting up of a recovery plan is crucial in the region, gripped with the deadly respiratory disease with nearly 137,000 infections, including 3,991 deaths, amid lockdowns, community quarantines and travel bans.

A draft ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement said the “implementation of a comprehensive recovery plan with a view to improving stability and resilience of the regional economy” will “alleviate the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” preserve “supply chain connectivity, while staying vigilant of a second wave of infections.”

As COVID-19 swept across the region, ASEAN has been holding meetings via virtual conference, with the first special summit on the pandemic held last April 14.?

Friday’s summit will also include discussions on the utilization of a regional response fund, a regional reserve of medical supplies, promoting research and development on vaccine and medicines as well as their production, when possible, and cross-border public health procedures through contact tracing and outbreak investigation.

“In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the convening of the 36th ASEAN Summit is a concrete demonstration of ASEAN’s solidarity and leadership manifested in concrete regional cooperation.? Such solidarity is very much needed in responding to the pandemic,” said ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi in a statement.

“We expect a greater collaborative effort in information and knowledge sharing not only in areas of medical development but also in domestic policies related to social and health security given the vast impact of COVID-19 on communities,” he added.

The economic impact of the pandemic, according to the leaders’ draft statement, “will affect the prospect of further recovery in the region in 2020.”

Many sectors were hit hard, such as transport, tourism and hospitality, as well as micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and informal workers.

Leaders tasked ministers and officials to ensure that the recovery plan “is holistic and inclusive to be effective in taking the region through the reopening and recovery stages, and towards longer term resilience and competitiveness,” the draft said.

South China Sea

The territorial disputes, which involve China and five other claimants including ASEAN members Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, will also be part of the formal summit agenda, according to the draft documents. Other members of ASEAN are Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

A Vietnamese vessel with eight crewmen was recently hit by a Chinese Coast Guard ship and sank near the Paracel Islands, drawing condemnation and protests from Vietnam and the Philippines.

Beijing’s unilateral declaration of new territorial districts in the South China Sea, was also protested and called illegal by the two countries as several areas they claim will be under the authority of the local Chinese government in Sansha, a city in the southern island of Hainan.

The United States accused China of taking advantage of the pandemic to assert its claim in the South China Sea—an accusation decried by Beijing.

“We discussed the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of some concerns on the activities in the area, which may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” a draft Chairman’s Statement said.

The language of the draft statement may still change as wordings and paragraphs are still subject to fine-tuning before the final statement is released by the leaders.

Without naming China or any other country, leaders sought “enhanced mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law,” the draft said.

They will also underscore the importance of “non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, which could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.”

China, which claims a huge swathe of the South China Sea as part of its territory, transformed previously submerged features into artificial islands with multi-level buildings and runways. It has also installed surface-to-air missiles in these areas and reportedly planned to enforce an air defense zone over the contested waters, triggering concerns from countries, such as the US, Japan and Australia.

Leaders are also expected to announce the possible signing in November this year of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact being negotiated for several years between ASEAN and trade partners China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

“We welcomed the progress made in preparing the RCEP agreement for signing in November 2020, and looked forward to the signing of the RCEP agreement by the end of this year,” the draft statement said.

The plight of minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state is also expected to be raised in the meetings.

Amid the killings and violence blamed on Myanmar’s security forces and the bloc’s policy of non-interference, ASEAN has refused to rebuke Myanmar.

However, leaders, the draft said, will reiterate its call for the “safe, secure, dignified, and voluntary repatriation” of thousands of refugees seeking shelter in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

“We also encouraged the continued and effective dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh to facilitate the repatriation process of displaced persons in Rakhine State,” the leaders’ draft statement said.

They will also reiterate the need “to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives,” it added.?— BM, GMA News

This article Draft statement for ASEAN summit notes grave concern for COVID-19 human, socio-economic toll was originally published in GMA News Online.

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