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Jakarta Post

Indonesia joins multilateral pursuit of 'practical', coordinated response to COVID-19

  • Dian Septiari
    Dian Septiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, April 9, 2020   /   04:48 pm
Indonesia joins multilateral pursuit of 'practical', coordinated response to COVID-19 Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi attends the fifth International Cooperation Group (ICG) teleconference on a global COVID-19 response from her office on April 7, 2020. Indonesia became a member of the ICG on Tuesday at the invitation of Canadian Foreign Minister Fran├žois-Philippe Champagne, who established the grouping on March 27. (courtesy of Foreign Ministry/-)

Indonesia has joined a group of like-minded countries to resolve certain challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic response, in hopes of setting an example that cooperation in producing “practical and implementable” norms and protocols was still possible amid the geopolitical jostling for solutions.

Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne initiated the International Coordination Group (ICG) on March 27 during a call he organized with the foreign ministers of  several affected countries.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi joined the ICG's ranks during the group's fifth teleconference on Tuesday.

The ICG is comprised primarily of G20 countries including Argentina, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The group has also invited non-G20 countries Morocco, Peru and Singapore into the fold.

According to the Canadian government’s website, the members of the new grouping have set out to discuss three main issues related to the global response to the pandemic: repatriation of citizens abroad; maintaining the global supply chain, especially for medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE); and support for vulnerable groups.

On the issue of repatriation, Retno underlined the need to agree on a procedure to manage the repatriation of citizens that complied with various health protocols. She also shared her notes on Indonesia’s efforts to resolve the shortage of medical supplies through co-production with South Korea.

“We need to increase production cooperation between manufacturing countries and raw material supplier countries to ensure the continued availability of personal protective equipment,” Retno said in a statement The Jakarta Post received on Wednesday.

The Foreign Ministry’s director of international organizations for developing countries, Kamapradipta Isnomo, said that ICG founding country Canada had invited Indonesia to join.

“We decided to join because this initiative focuses on efforts at improving coordination [...] in the COVID-19 response. The issues are also very practical, so we like it,” Kama told the Post.

The grouping may prove useful, as its member states were all likely facing the same challenges, from the rising numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, to a shortage of medical supplies and to their large diaspora.

“If the [ICG] countries can achieve something or come up with common understanding, norms and principles governing these three issues, then we can take the lead in formulating international practices,” he said.

In a virtual briefing with reporters on Thursday, Retno said that the group's 12 countries aim to finalize two protocols – one on supply chains and another on an "air bridge" (agreed airlift routes) – both initiated by Canada.

In the coming weeks, senior officials from ICG member states would convene virtually to hammer out the details and finalize the suggested guidelines for adoption, said Kama. Upon endorsement, the member states are expected to immediately implement the protocols and begin advocating them to other countries in the international community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has frustrated governments, overstretched the global health crisis response led by the World Health Organization (WHO), and pushed countries to deal with the crisis on their own. According to the latest WHO figures, more than 1.3 million people in the world have contracted the virus that causes COVID-19, with almost 80,000 deaths.

“There is a lack of international coordination,” Kama said. “Nations are becoming more inward looking, and rightfully so because they have to take care of their own citizens, but let's not forget the international cooperation aspect, which is what [the ICG] is trying to achieve.”

In particular, the G20 under current chair Saudi Arabia has been called out for its lumbering response to the pandemic. A slew of international figures have urged the international grouping to work faster to implement its members’ pledges, announced in a virtual summit on March 26, to address the deepening global health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19.

In an open letter signed by 165 international figures – including 92 former world leaders, former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai – the petitioners called on G20 member states to set up an executive task force and host a global pledging conference to approve and coordinate a multibillion-dollar fund to fight the pandemic.

Many of the petitioners – former leaders and other figures who were involved in the global response to the 2008-2010 economic crisis – have pointed out that unlike past crises, the current economic emergency cannot be resolved until the health emergency is addressed.

"Much has been done by national governments to counter the downward slide of their economies. But a global economic problem requires a global economic response. Our aim should be to prevent a liquidity crisis turning into a solvency crisis, and a global recession becoming a global depression,” says the open letter.

“To ensure this, better coordinated fiscal, monetary, central bank and anti-protectionist initiatives are needed. The ambitious fiscal stimuli of some countries will be all the more effective if [they are] more strongly complemented by all countries in a position to do so.”They said that the G20 must agree immediately to commit US$8 billion as set out by the WHO Global Preparedness Monitoring Board to fill in the most urgent gaps in the global COVID-19 response.

The figure includes $1 billion for the WHO, $3 billion for vaccine development and $2.25 billion for clinical treatment.