Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has been shaking the world politically, socially and economically since the start of year 2020. One of the most affected parts of the world is Southeast Asia. Looking at the response of the ASEAN and the effects of the virus to it, we can have a better understanding of the nature, processes, and problems of this regional organization. This article briefly discusses how COVID-19 could be a test to the three ASEAN concepts, specifically, ASEAN Community Building, ASEAN Centrality, and ASEAN Economic Integration.
COVID-19 and ASEAN Community Building
Although the ASEAN Member States are facing various challenges due to the spreading of COVID-19 pandemic, we can notice that it has become an opportunity for a more splendid ASEAN Community Building. Last April 14, 2020, the heads of the state/ government of the Members States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held a Special Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) via video.
This Special Summit was called to enhance the caring and sharing in the ASEAN Community where the Member States will help each other in this trying times. It also includes the declaration of initiatives to further the public health cooperation to contain the pandemic and protect the people through the timely and transparent exchange of information as well as sharing of best practices in dealing with the crisis. Member States declared their commitment to provide collaborative assistance and support for each other and to take collective action in
mitigating the impact of the pandemic socially and economically. (Declaration of the Special ASEAN Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), 2020)
This united effort among the ASEAN Member States shows that fighting this global problem will eventually lead to further discoveries and development of integrated public health crisis management. It could become an assessment tool to evaluate how far the ASEAN cooperation has gone in strengthening a regional community that can solve common problems and achieve common interests.
The ASEAN Community building is presently undergoing a testing of the stability of cooperation and potential links where they can work together as one in dealing with this pandemic. However, failure to fulfil the provisions in this declaration may add to criticisms in the concept of ASEAN Community Building. COVID-19 is, therefore, a significant phenomenon in which the ASEAN should be serious with so that it can prove its commitment to establishing a one effective regional community.
COVID-19 and ASEAN Centrality
Another concept that we can understand more about the ASEAN in this time of pandemic is the ASEAN Centrality. This concept means that the decisions and actions of ASEAN have great value and influence globally. Other than evaluating the process of community building, the fight against COVID-19 will also assess the level of ASEAN Centrality. It is apparent in the action and response to the global health crisis made by China and the ASEAN Member States.
On February 20, 2020, the first ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19 at Vientiane, Laos was held to discuss how to combat the pandemic. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed to have an inter-agency response and formulate a permanent
mechanism and protocols on public health cooperation and such were accepted by the ASEAN counterparts. (Yang, 2020)
The ASEAN is one of the leading investment partners of China, especially in terms of trade, travel and tourism. As the international trade between China and ASEAN has rapidly increased in recent years, China indeed has placed a substantial economic value to ASEAN.
The continuous development of ASEAN economic cooperation and ASEAN Economic Community have strengthened the ASEAN Centrality, where large investors like China is attracted. Thus, the interruptions of international economic activities by the ASEAN states have become a threat global economy affecting many countries. Other states are eyeing the economic influence and value of ASEAN as an important global market. ASEAN has been building its reputation, particularly as an international economic regional actor.
COVID-19 and ASEAN Economic Integration
Lastly, the COVID-19 has brought a significant impact to the ASEAN Economic Integration. Aside from the assessment of ASEAN Community Building and ASEAN Centrality, the response to this pandemic will also get us in evaluating the concept of ASEAN Economic Integration.
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19, the progressive economic cooperation of the ASEAN has caught the attention of the world. It is evident in the closer economic relations among the Member States, especially in trade, travel and tourism. The borderless interaction, economic activities as well as the trade liberalization in the region has undeniably strengthened each other’s economy. Interdependence has significantly helped each other to boost their employment rate, investments and productivity.
Unfortunately, upon the outbreak of the coronavirus, these close economic ties that brought them mutual development also caused them to have collective economic decline. Due to some travel restrictions, community quarantines, closures of businesses, and other prohibitions to prevent virus transmission, the consequence was the immediate economic interruptions across the region (ASEAN, 2020). It is not only the virus that has become contagious but also the economic impact of the pandemic among the ASEAN Member States.
To sum up, this present global health crisis should be used as an assessment tool to evaluate the three ASEAN concepts, namely, ASEAN Community Building, ASEAN Centrality, and ASEAN Economic Integration. COVID-19 has become a common problem of the world so that it must be an opportunity to test the genuineness and capacity of the ASEAN Community to provide regional health security. It will also reveal how ASEAN is valuable in the international stage as it plays a vital role in the global economy. Finally, we can see that economic integration has brought not only mutual development among the ASEAN Member States but also domino effect of regional economic decline caused by the COVID-19.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). (2020). Declaration of the Special ASEAN Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Retrieved from https://asean.org/storage/2020/04/FINAL-Declaration-of-the-Special-ASEAN-Summit-on-COVID-19.pdf
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). (2020). Economic Impact of COVID-19
Outbreak on ASEAN. ASEAN Policy Brief. Retrieved from https://asean.org/storage/2020/04/ASEAN-Policy-Brief-April-2020_FINAL.pdf
Yang, Z. (2020). Global Health Security – ASEAN-China COVID-19 Meeting: Why and What’s Next? (RSIS Commentaries, No. 032). RSIS Commentaries. Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.