A health worker holds a blood sample taken to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a testing center in Hanoi on July 30, 2020. Photo: AFP / Nhac Nguyen

The Covid-19 pandemic has become one of the most dreadful diseases after plague, smallpox, Ebola and SARS in the history of human civilization. It has so far infected 24 million people and killed 800,000 worldwide, while the numbers keep growing.

The pandemic has hit Southeast Asian countries as well, including Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam with new infections daily.

Leaders have taken precautions to prevent the pandemic spreading widely in their communities while trying to maintain the flow of people and goods to minimize the impact on their economies.

Against this backdrop, the third Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting convened via videoconference on Monday with the theme of “Enhancing Partnership for Shared Prosperity.”.

The meeting was co-chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos, and attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, President Win Myint of Myanmar, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha of Thailand and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam.

The leaders said they had strengthened economic cooperation and trade ties and contributed to the region’s growth.

In fact, the Mekong-Lancang countries have supported one another in combating the virus and reviving regional growth this year. They are expected to strengthen cooperation on people’s livelihoods and promote regional integration and free trade.

China welcomes the Mekong-Lancang countries and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to participate actively in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor runs through western China and connects Southeast Asia with the Eurasian continent.

The BRI thereby expands trade ties and connectivity cooperation for the ASEAN countries. China is prepared to synergize the BRI further with the region’s development strategies for deeper cooperation among the ASEAN countries.

Despite the pandemic, the economy in the Mekong-Lancang region is steadily recovering. Business activities are resuming. The countries ought to share clinical information in public health emergencies. China will work with the Southeast Asian countries to support the World Health Organization in playing its role.

Now, Chinese-developed Covid-19 vaccines are in the clinical testing and experimental stage. Once available, the vaccines will be provided to Southeast Asian countries according to need.

China has also established the Mekong-Lancang Countries Special Fund for upgrading cooperation on public health within the region. Moreover, China has scaled up macro policy and measures to cushion the impact of Covid-19.

With China’s efforts to curb the Covid-19 virus, the ASEAN Plus Three cooperation will continue to deepen and contribute to China’s BRI plan. ASEAN countries may also use this opportunity to learn from the Chinese anti-epidemic experiences.

Kar-kin Chu

Kar-kin Chu is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a researcher of the Hong Kong and Macau Basic Law Research Center and an executive director of the Hong Kong Association for Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China. He is a PhD candidate and a veteran current-affairs commentator based in Hong Kong.