The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has accorded a primary role to the defence establishment in COVID-19 recovery. On June 22, 2022, the Sixteenth ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meeting (ADMM) adopted the Phnom Penh Vision on The Role of Defence Establishments in Support of COVID-19 Recovery which acknowledges the role of defence establishments in contributing towards combatting COVID-19 and resolving to strengthen defence cooperation against the pandemic.

The Phnom Penh Vision expressed concern with the human cost and suffering, severe disruption to societies and economies and devastating impact on lives and livelihoods brought about by COVID-19 which has severely affected the region. The vision underlined the importance of collaborative efforts to develop and implement cohesive, responsive and effective measures to cope with the spread of the pandemic across shared borders, in addition to the necessity of promoting mutual assistance in COVID-19 recovery on a flexible, voluntary and non-binding basis.

The vision commended the efforts of the ASEAN Center of Military Medicine (ACMM) to strengthen cooperation and understanding between the ASEAN Member States’ (AMS) military medicine experts, Such efforts by ACMM and AMS military experts include organisation of workshops on COVID-19 on topics including quarantine camp management, COVID-19 management in a disaster area, medical logistics management in a pandemic, guidelines for military camps in the new normal and containment of emerging infectious diseases in military joint training. The Vision also commended the efforts by the Network of ASEAN Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) Defence Experts to foster greater cooperation between AMS’ CBR experts including through the Virtual Workshop on “Promoting Scientific Cooperation to Manage Infectious Disease Outbreaks”.

The Vision called for strengthening defence cooperation between ASEAN defence establishments to enhance militaries’ capabilities to respond swiftly and effectively to the COVID19 pandemic and support the region’s efforts to recover from the pandemic in a sustainable and inclusive manner and enhance the exchanges of information and coordination on a regular basis and provide mutual assistance among the defence establishments of AMS on cross border pandemic control and prevention and the protection of people’s lives and livelihoods, where and when possible and feasible. The Phnom Penh vision also called for leveraging the ACMM as a platform for ASEAN military medicine experts to continue to coordinate, collaborate and exchange views and shared lessons learned and also to leverage the Network of ASEAN CBR Defence Experts as the main platform for ASEAN CBR experts to exchange views, insights and lessons learned on scientific cooperation to combat the pandemic.

The Declaration of the Sixteenth ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) convened in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 22 June 2022 under the theme “Solidarity for Harmonised Security” recognised the growing challenges posed by geopolitical and geostrategic shifts in the region, compounded by complex traditional and non-traditional security challenges, social and economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and other transboundary issues, including climate change. The Declaration recognised the need to deepen defence collaboration in contributing towards tackling cross-border pandemic challenges.

The Declaration reiterated ASEAN’s joint efforts and commitment to enhancing strategic dialogue and practical defence cooperation, through the ADMM and the ADMM-Plus as the region’s key security architecture, in response to the non-traditional security challenges; while upholding the principles of ASEAN Centrality and respect for the ASEAN principles of non-interference, sovereignty and territorial integrity, consensus-based decision-making as well as flexible, voluntary, non-binding, and resource-efficient contributions, with assets remaining under national command and control.

The Declaration also adopted the Concept Paper on Enhancing Cooperation Amongst Defence Forces of ASEAN Member States (AMS) in Cross-Border Pandemic Containment as part of the regional whole-of-government efforts to enhance regional synergy and collaboration in tackling current and future global communicable and infectious diseases such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

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