LETTER | Greater cooperation among countries only answer in facing Covid-19 threat

MG Heng


LETTER | During the Second World War (WWII), the Asia-Pacific region suffered extensively in terms of economy and infrastructure.

However, during the post-war period, the region successfully regained economic momentum thanks to the United States' assistance and leadership.

Fast forward to today, humanity is facing the greatest threat since WWII – the Covid-19 pandemic.

But unlike seven decades ago, the leadership of the United States is notably absent in the fight against the new enemy.

While millions have been infected and a million people have perished, Washington, under President Donald Trump, decided to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Such a unilateral and irresponsible act has dealt a serious blow to the international community in seeking cooperation to combat the infectious Covid-19 outbreak.

Worst, the United States keeps blaming the WHO and China's way of handling the unprecedented pandemic without providing constructive and concrete solutions.

The imprudent action of the United States has attracted strong criticism from global society.

It should be noted that the novel coronavirus knows no borders. There is no other way to defeat the virus than stronger collaboration and coordination among all countries.

To suppress the outbreak and to recover our economy, an honest and effective communication must be done at the level of the United Nations and its specialised agencies, the Group of Twenty (G20), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the WHO, and others to build international and inter-regional mutual trust and cooperation.

Practising isolationism would not help mankind to win the war against Covid-19.

Reducing infections and recovering the economy require sustained collaboration among countries and across international institutions and such cooperation begs for a leader.

Realising the importance of common goods, China has mobilised massive supplies and medical experts to assist its neighbouring Asean countries with its first-hand experience in successfully suppressing the virus outbreak.

Beijing donated an estimated 3.5 million surgical masks, at least 250,000 N-95 masks, more than 40 tonnes of test kits, and other important medical supplies to the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta and member countries.

China's ambassador to Asean, Deng Xijun was quoted in May 2020 as saying that Asean will benefit from a US$2 billion Covid-19 fund established by Beijing.

The member states of Asean can depend on the massive war chest in improving local public health systems on top of the respective national budget.

More importantly, China has officially joined a global vaccine initiative – Covax for distributing two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines around the world by the end of 2021.

The international collaboration is committed to ensuring "equitable access" for all of the countries taking part in the initiative.

In contrast, the United States refused to join Covax in retaining its hawkish "vaccine nationalism", as though proving that it is indeed all about "American lives first and others don't matter".

For the lower-middle-income member states of Asean, Beijing's move secured the most effective tool against the virus.

Southeast Asia can expect affordable and accessible vaccines in protecting its 675 million population.

While Asean extended its friendship to help Wuhan during the first phase of the outbreak in Jan 2020, China reciprocated the goodwill by helping to suppress the current surge in cases in Asean member countries.

During the first phase, the resources sharing among Asean countries and China has helped both parties to overcome the pandemic.

Now it is time for the region to think and act about further breaking the tariff and non-tariff barriers to ensure the continued and smooth cross-border flow of food, agricultural products, commodities, medicines, and medical supplies, as well as other essential goods and services.

Any emergency trade measures deemed necessary to tackle Covid-19 shall be targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary, and shall not create unnecessary barriers to trade and shall take into account the standards and recommendations of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and be consistent with the rights and obligations of each party under the World Trade Organization (WTO) covered agreements.

In relation to the Malaysia-China cooperation against Covid-19, Putrajaya had donated 18 million pieces of gloves to Wuhan hospitals in Jan 2020. Even the Sabah government organised a charity dinner to fundraise RM1.5 million for Beijing to combat the virus.

During the movement control order in Malaysia, China donated two batches of medical provisions in March and May 2020, respectively.

The total assistance included 1.3 million surgical face masks, 10,000 surgical face shields, 160,000 laboratory testing kits, 70,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) and 70,000 N-95 face masks.

Eight China senior medical experts were dispatched to facilitate efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia in April 2020. Valuable experience and skills were exchanged among Malaysia-China medical experts.

China's Ministry of National Defence also provided top-grade 13 medical items and equipment to its Malaysian counterpart to assist in flattening the pandemic curve.

On top of that, Malaysia and China are redrawing the five years plan of bilateral economic and trade cooperation. Tax and land premium are the main discussion points to deepen both countries' relationship under the One Belt, One Road initiative.

The mutual cooperation and close friendship of Asean and China would help to foster and mobilise a strong force against the Covid-19 outbreak.

Our challenges are great. But together, Malaysia, Asean member countries, and China would be stronger in the fight against Covid-19. Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.

Hope for humanity relies on working together to beat the pandemic and to rebuild the economy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.