Together, the United States and ASEAN are facing down the SARS-CoV-2 virus – one of the greatest threats of the last century to the health of our collective 1 billion people. While the virus did not originate in America or Southeast Asia, our nations can be proud of the bold steps we are taking to extinguish it, and build a healthier, more resilient and prosperous region long-term.
As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a virtual meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers on April 23, "we will work together to beat this pandemic, and get back to the business of building a bright future for the region.”
Since the outbreak began, as of May 4, the US had released more than US$57.5 million to help Southeast Asian countries to fight the virus, including more than $7 million in emergency health funding to Indonesia with an additional $5 million just announced. These funds have helped strengthen the COVID-19 testing capacity of Indonesian laboratories, deliver accurate information to the public on physical distancing and hygiene practices and provide technical assistance to the lead agencies working on the response.
Our partnership did not begin with this pandemic. As US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar discussed with ASEAN health ministers on April 30, we have worked with ASEAN for decades to help prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases. In the last 20 years, the US has given more than $3.5 billion in public health assistance to ASEAN countries.
For example, the President’s Malaria Initiative, with a focus on the Mekong region, is estimated to have prevented 1 million deaths worldwide. America is the largest donor to global efforts to fight tuberculosis, the cause of nearly 640,000 deaths across Southeast Asia each year. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is active across ASEAN, with a presence in Thailand for 40 years, and a new regional office opening in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, US support on HIV/AIDS helped largely eradicate the disease. In Indonesia, a CDC advisor works with the government’s COVID-19 taskforce. In Cambodia, US National Institutes of Health disease experts are assisting the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital. In Laos, the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency is assisting the Health Ministry.
US businesses and citizens are vital partners in ASEAN’s fight against COVID-19 and its post-virus recovery as well. American companies have donated tens of millions of dollars to support the region’s COVID-19 efforts. US technology companies are partnering with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the US Department of Energy to map possible treatments for the virus.
The US will continue to provide online training and support for ASEAN workers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) affected by the crisis through efforts like the US-ASEAN Internship Program, ASEAN Online SME Academy and the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network.
This health crisis reminds us of the importance of the deep friendship between our governments and our peoples. America is grateful to our partners in Southeast Asia for lifting obstacles in supply chains to speed up the flow of vital, high-quality medical supplies to the US and throughout the globe. We are thankful for the assistance and coordination with the numerous repatriation flights that have delivered Americans safely back home. Malaysia helped get 1.3 million gloves delivered swiftly to the US market. Vietnam gave quick flight clearances so 2.2 million PPE protective suits could reach American healthcare workers.
The US-ASEAN partnership is bonded by the shared principles of: openness, transparency, ASEAN-centrality, a rules-based framework, good governance and respect for sovereignty. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the critical importance of these principles – and in particular an insistence on transparency. Even more than aid and equipment, transparent and timely information sharing – to our own publics and our international partners – is vital to saving lives in a pandemic.
America will continue to be ASEAN’s top public health partner. The US-ASEAN Health Futures initiative, announced by Secretary Pompeo, builds on our long collaboration to promote research and train the next generation of ASEAN health professionals. Recently, the first conference of the Health Futures Alumni Network, virtually hosted by our public engagement venue @America here in Indonesia, shared best practices among US experts and nearly 2,400 Southeast Asian health professionals who have benefited from US exchange programs, reaching more than 100,000 people online. The US is also keen to support ASEAN’s own interest in strengthening region-wide disease control structures.
As we work to beat the virus, we partner to rebuild our economies and keep the region safe. We start from a strong foundation with $294 billion in two-way goods trade in 2019 and $273 billion of US, foreign direct investment across ASEAN. We will continue to provide economic technical support to the ASEAN Single Window, the US-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership, and other programs. While we focus on overcoming the COVID crisis, we will remain vigilant against any efforts to undercut sovereignty or economic independence – including in the South China Sea or along the Mekong River.
The way America and the ASEAN countries are working together to overcome this crisis shows the strength of our bond, and gives confidence that our partnership will only get stronger. We have faced shared challenges before, and together we will continue to build a safe, secure and more prosperous future.
Heather Variava is charge d’affaires ad interim, United States Mission to Indonesia and Melissa Brown is charge d’affaires ad interim, US Mission to ASEAN.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.