VIENTIANE, Laos: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Sep 6) urged the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) to join hands in fighting a possibly extended campaign against the Zika virus.
Speaking at the 28th ASEAN Summit plenary in Laos, Mr Lee said that Singapore has immediately stepped up measures since the number of locally transmitted cases jumped in just over a week to 258 as of Sep 5.
“It is imperative for us to work together to combat Zika, but we should put Zika in the proper context,” said Mr Lee. “Given the presence of the Aedes mosquito, Zika may become endemic in our region, just like dengue.”
“We should prepare ourselves for a possibly extended campaign against Zika but ensure that the region remains open and connected for business and trade.”
He added that Singapore will work with ASEAN and the international community to combat the disease.
NEXT STEPS FOR HAZE; ASEAN
At the plenary Mr Lee also touched on the transboundary haze issue – stating that with all 10 ASEAN member states having ratified a joint agreement on haze pollution, as well as adopted a roadmap towards a “Haze‐Free ASEAN” by 2020, the next moves would be to fully operationalise both the ASEAN Haze Monitoring System and ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control.
“This will send a strong signal to the errant companies that have been causing the haze pollution,” said Mr Lee.
He also spoke on the need to review, update and streamline ASEAN’s processes – including for meetings and summits. Said Mr Lee: “I’m happy that Laos is holding the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits back‐to‐back in September this year.
“It has freed up the capacity for ASEAN to have two very good standalone Summits with the US and Russia,” he added. “We should task our officials to follow through with concrete recommendations expeditiously.”
Mr Lee also acknowledged that the Philippines – which will hold the ASEAN chairmanship in 2017 – had proposed a review of the ASEAN Charter. “It is a good idea, but we should be very careful in going about it,” he stated.
ASEAN UNITY, CENTRALITY
At the opening of his speech Mr Lee also spoke on the importance of working on strengthening ASEAN “unity and centrality”. Reiterating a point he made at Singapore’s National Day Rally last month, he said: “As individual countries, our voice carries limited weight but collectively, with more than 600 million people speaking as one, we will have a louder voice and stronger bargaining power.”
“It can be difficult for ASEAN to speak with one voice on issues where we have different positions but we must not let such differences divide us,” he added. “If we are divided, we will lose our relevance and value to our partners.”
Mr Lee concluded: “The ASEAN community will always be a work in progress but if we stay united and work together, we can overcome our challenges and prosper together.”