JAKARTA 

The discussion on coronavirus handling in Southeast Asia will top the agenda of the 36th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that will be held virtually next week, Indonesia’s foreign minister said.

“So far, they have not share any specific agenda, but I am sure that the coronavirus handling in the region will be the top priority,” Retno Marsudi said at a teleconference in Jakarta on Thursday.

As of Friday, ASEAN countries have confirmed more than 123,000 cases of COVID-19, while Indonesia remains the worst-hit country with 43,803 cases so far.

The summit, which was supposed to be held in Vietnam on June 27-28, was canceled as member states struggle to contain the pandemic and it will be held virtually on June 26.

Apart from the coronavirus, leaders of the regional bloc will also discuss about developments in region, relations with ASEAN dialogue partners, as well as current regional and global issues.

Post-multilateralism

Ramdhan Muhaimin, a lecturer of International Relations Department in Al-Azhar University in Jakarta, urged ASEAN countries to stay vigilant to avoid the possible second wave of the coronavirus.

“This issue must be our main concern so that Southeast Asia will not become the new epicenter of virus that will affect not only region but also the world,” Muhaimin told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.

He also highlighted the emergence of post-multilateralism in response to the pandemic, where member states are more concerned with the situation in their own country and are being super-protective.

“Hopefully, the post-multilateralism situation that happened in a global level will not occur in Southeast Asia,” he added.

Economic recovery

Dinna Prapto Raharja, politics and international relations observer, said the upcoming ASEAN Summit could set a momentum to strengthen cooperation among member states to improve the economy amid the uncertainty due to the pandemic.

“All member states should work hand-in-hand instead of depending on non-ASEAN countries,” said Dinna.

There is a tendency for ASEAN countries to prioritize cooperation with partners that are more economically-stable such as European Union, Japan, Hong Kong, India and South Korea.

“We have to strengthen our finance sector, especially related to the value chain of products from small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region,” she said.

The contribution of SMEs is vital, which make up 80-90% of all enterprises and provide over 60% of the private sector jobs, so it will be a great contribution in restoring economy, she added.

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