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Region has to ensure steady and affordable supply of vaccines: PM Lee

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PM Lee makes call for 'vaccine multilateralism', stresses power of cooperation at Asean Summit

Asean has to ensure an equitable, steady and affordable supply of Covid-19 vaccines for its people once these are available, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Asean Summit yesterday.

He made the call for "vaccine multilateralism" as he stressed the importance of regional cooperation to mitigate the pandemic's long-term impact at the meeting held remotely this year.

PM Lee added that Singapore supports global vaccine initiatives such as the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) Facility, whose members include many Asean states as well as the country's external partners.

"Many leading vaccine candidates are being developed by our external partners, as well as our Asean member states too," said PM Lee. "We should work with them to facilitate the production and distribution of vaccines to meet the needs of our region."

Singapore will contribute US$100,000 (S$135,000) to the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund, which helps member states procure the medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the pandemic.

On the economic front, leaders should redouble efforts to enhance Asean's competitiveness in the post-Covid-19 world, PM Lee added.

He noted there are existing frameworks that can be built on, such as the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025. In addition, the recently launched Asean Customs Transit System helps facilitate the cross-border flow of goods.

"These initiatives can catalyse our recovery, and let us make full use of technology as we adjust to new ways of living and doing business in the post-Covid world," he said.

PM Lee said Asean has made progress in various areas, including the mid-term reviews of the Asean Community Blueprints. It has started developing the Asean Community's post-2025 vision and is expected to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal on Sunday after years of negotiations.

But one challenge ahead will be that great power rivalry is not absent in South-east Asia, with tensions between the US and China putting the region under greater stress and testing Asean centrality and unity, he said.

Even so, Asean can make a modest contribution towards better mutual trust and cooperation among the major powers.

Asean leaders attended four annual summits with their key partners - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - yesterday, with PM Lee speaking on the need for deepening economic cooperation and connectivity.