17 June 202018:25

Remarks and replies by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the news conference following the Russia-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Coronavirus Disease 2019 via videoconference, Moscow, June 17, 2020

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Today we held a meeting of the foreign ministers of the ASEAN member states and the Russian Federation, via videoconference.

We discussed specific, general and current tasks on countering the coronavirus infection and the consequences of the pandemic in terms of global policy and the economy.  

We reaffirmed the importance of further strengthening our partnership and using its potential for overcoming all aspects of the crisis. 

Thus, we spoke about the need to exchange information, promote the efficiency of our joint steps on protecting the lives and health of our citizens, developing relevant mechanisms in Russia-ASEAN cooperation, and coordinate our efforts at international venues and forums.

Russia continues to assist the ASEAN countries in upgrading the skills of their medical personnel. We are willing to share advanced experience in preventing and countering infectious diseases. Rospotrebnadzor offered an initiative that was actively supported by all our partners: to start a three-year course of educational programmes for ASEAN specialists on fighting infectious diseases. The first training courses of this cycle were held in Vladivostok in December 2019. Our willingness to expand contacts between epidemiologists, including via the internet received a positive response. We agreed to take specific steps to make this communication a regular mechanism. We agree that this would help us better analyse and understand the concepts and best practices of both sides, reach practical conclusions and carry them out. In the final count, this will be a tangible contribution to enhancing the epidemiological safety of the Southeast Asian countries. This is important for us too considering that every year ASEAN countries host millions of Russian tourists.

We agreed to speed up the preparations of a comprehensive strategic document on the development of the Russia-ASEAN dialogue for the next five years, and the updating of Russia-ASEAN cooperation plans for combating terrorism and promoting education. There are interesting proposals for launching new spheres of cooperation, including in the field of finance. It was decided to continue to focus on cooperation to ensure the security of information and communication technologies.

Essentially cross-border challenges and threats certainly require collective measures and coordinated multilateral approaches. However (as was already mentioned in our discussion today), we often see the opposite attitude on the part of some states: instead of joining efforts, they tend to politicise problems and act as if it’s every man for himself. We expressed concern about several countries’ attempts to take advantage of the situation with the coronavirus infection to attain their highly self-serving geopolitical goals or to settle accounts with governments they don’t favour.

We unanimously stated our solidarity regarding the coordinating role of the UN and the World Health Organisation in countering the pandemic, and unanimously supported the approach outlined by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that any unilateral actions restricting the supply of medicine, equipment or food to any countries are unacceptable. The general understanding is that any positive results in containing the coronavirus (as we spoke today about our progress on the COVID-19 vaccine and new medicine, and these efforts of the Russian Federation were praised by our ASEAN partners) should be made available to all countries, all people on Earth on an equal basis.

We spoke about the trends in the Asia-Pacific region (APR) during the recent months of the coronavirus pandemic, and what conclusions can be drawn regarding the development of cooperation in the region. We reaffirmed the core role of the ASEAN-centric associations in the region, primarily, East Asia Summits. We are grateful to our colleagues for their unanimous support for Russia’s initiative to adopt at the next East Asian summit in Hanoi in November 2020 a statement by their leaders on measures to enhance the regional potential of fighting epidemics. Indonesia co-sponsored this initiative; all other countries expressed their unanimous support. We also spoke about the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting with Dialogue Partners, also a platform in the ASEAN-centric context, in which the Russian delegation traditionally participates. Several years ago, the ASEAN Centre of Military Medicine (ACMM) was set up in Bangkok at Russia’s initiative, and can be very thoroughly and effectively involved in the current situation. During today's video conference, we shared information with our friends about how Russian military medical workers operate both in Russia and abroad, in particular about their special projects to assist in the coronavirus response efforts at the request of the authorities in Italy and Serbia.

We exchanged views on the prospects for the region’s post-coronavirus recovery. We again highlighted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to create the Greater Eurasian Partnership, in which the EAEU, ASEAN, SCO and other states located on our common Eurasian continent could take advantage of. We are confident that it could act as a framework – collective, inclusive, and open – for building a new system of Eurasian security and development without any dividing lines.

Based on the results of our discussions, we approved a joint statement listing all the initiatives that I spoke about earlier on. It also formulates a very important principle that we always uphold in our discussions on regional and global affairs – the indivisible security. Russia and ASEAN will be committed to a policy of peace and stability in the region where no one shall ensure their security at the expense of the security of others – it is the most important political statement. In this context, we welcomed the progress in establishing ties between ASEAN and the EAEU and expansion of contacts between the ASEAN and SCO Secretariats.

As I already mentioned, the joint statement will be published on the websites of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the ASEAN Secretariat, and I would like to invite you to read it.

Question: Vietnam is the ASEAN Chair this year. How is the Russian Federation planning to use Russian-Vietnamese ties to promote relations with ASEAN?

Sergey Lavrov: We greatly value our relations with our Vietnamese friends. These are relations of multifarious strategic partnership based on decades of solidarity, including the period of struggle for the freedom, independence and unity of Vietnam. Now that our Vietnamese friends are chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we can see how actively and purposefully they are seeking to facilitate further intensification of the strategic partnership that has been announced as part of Russia-ASEAN relations. 

We are making pro-active preparations for the next East Asia Summit that Vietnam is convening in its capital, Hanoi. The summit is scheduled for November 2020. A number of documents are being prepared to be submitted for approval by presidents and heads of government. These include Russian initiatives on the need to pool efforts in the fight against the pandemic and epidemics as a whole, which are being actively supported by our ASEAN friends.

As for the possibility of Vietnam acting as a bridge between Russia and Southeast Asia, we have already established a strategic partnership with ASEAN countries, and Vietnam did play a leading role in the context of this effort at a stage when we were just starting contacts, and later, when we were granted dialogue partner status. Finally, a couple of years ago, our leaders declared at one of the summit meetings that our partnership was of a strategic nature.

We will rely on our Vietnamese friends as well as all other ASEAN states to further promote this mutually beneficial cooperation. On some issues, Vietnam may well indicate the path towards additional areas of cooperation. As one possibility of this kind, let me mention the fact that Vietnam was the first ASEAN country to sign a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Following in Vietnam’s footsteps, some other ASEAN countries, including Singapore, started relevant negotiations. ASEAN as a whole, as an association, is keen on exploring the possibility of launching a dialogue on trade liberalisation with the EAEU. 

We have very good prospects ahead and we will be actively supporting our Vietnamese friends as they perform their functions as the ASEAN Chair. Along with the ASEAN chairmanship, they chair all ASEAN-centric forums, including the East Asia Summit.  

Question: Given the seriousness of issues on the Russia-ASEAN agenda, is it expedient and practicable to establish an organisation that would tackle these issues directly? Has a possibility of this sort been discussed?   Does it meet the interests of Russia and its ASEAN partners?

Sergey Lavrov: I have mentioned the fact that Russia was behind the establishment of a military medical collaboration mechanism long before the current outbreak of the coronavirus infection. This decision was approved several years ago, when ASEAN defence ministers and the defence ministers of partner countries were meeting in Thailand. Today, we have arranged with my colleagues to step up operations of this military medical collaboration mechanism under the aegis of the defence ministers’ meeting.  

As I said, at the initiative of Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor), all our ASEAN partners have agreed to set up a specialised organisation that would work to prevent and fight infectious diseases. Three-year courses to train infectious disease specialists have been started as a concrete project within the framework of this cooperation. The first courses were held in Vladivostok in December 2019. 

A third aspect is now on everyone’s lips. We noted an active development of the volunteer movement in the context of the coronavirus infection, a movement aimed at helping the vulnerable strata of the population (the elderly and people with disabilities).  Given that Russia has almost 150,000 active volunteers, who have started this work at their own initiative and are helping an estimated 3 million Russian citizens, who need this assistance under the current circumstances, we have suggested discussing if contacts could be established between the volunteer movements in Russia and the ASEAN countries. Why not help these young people to liaise and exchange best practices? Yet another people’s diplomacy movement could grow on this basis.

There are many opportunities. We have arranged to continue contacts on this matter between relevant services. I am confident that additional concrete initiatives will be put forward and that they will be implemented.

Question: Relations between the DPRK and South Korea have recently deteriorated. In your opinion, how serious could the consequences be and how will it affect the denuclearisation prospects for the Korean Peninsula? In particular, what steps can Moscow take to normalise the situation?

Sergey Lavrov: I already commented on this situation at yesterday’s news conference. We urge the Korean parties to show reserve and responsibility for what is happening on the peninsula, and to maintain a stable and calm situation there. We hope our calls will be heard.

We are not offering any services. When we return (I hope it will happen) to the six-party talks to solve the problems of the Korean Peninsula, we will be interested in resuming the interrupted multilateral dialogue on all issues of providing peace and stability in Southeast Asia. I am sure that it meets the interests of the Korean people on the both sides of the border, and all other countries in this important region.  

Question: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has urged the United States to play a more active role in the settlement in Libya. What does Moscow think about this statement?

Sergey Lavrov: We can only welcome any constructive assistance to the efforts to overcome a crisis, be it Libya, Syria or anywhere else.

I don’t know what concrete steps the United States can take to assist the Libyan settlement. They took part in the Berlin conference on Libya. Russia was represented there by President Vladimir Putin. They also signed the UN Security Council resolution which approved the decision of the Libyan conference. Washington emphasises that it recognises the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which is a party to the conflict.

If the United States can use its influence in the Libyan conflict to assist the efforts of Russia and other international players that call for an immediate ceasefire, it would be a very positive development. We will see.

Question: Vietnam is the ASEAN Chair this year. How is the Russian Federation planning to use Russian-Vietnamese ties to promote relations with ASEAN?

Sergey Lavrov: We greatly value our relations with our Vietnamese friends. These are relations of multifarious strategic partnership based on decades of solidarity, including the period of struggle for the freedom, independence and unity of Vietnam. Now that our Vietnamese friends are chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we can see how actively and purposefully they are seeking to facilitate further intensification of the strategic partnership that has been announced as part of Russia-ASEAN relations. 

We are making pro-active preparations for the next East Asia Summit that Vietnam is convening in its capital, Hanoi. The summit is scheduled for November 2020. A number of documents are being prepared to be submitted for approval by presidents and heads of government. These include Russian initiatives on the need to pool efforts in the fight against the pandemic and epidemics as a whole, which are being actively supported by our ASEAN friends.

As for the possibility of Vietnam acting as a bridge between Russia and Southeast Asia, we have already established a strategic partnership with ASEAN countries, and Vietnam did play a leading role in the context of this effort at a stage when we were just starting contacts, and later, when we were granted dialogue partner status. Finally, a couple of years ago, our leaders declared at one of the summit meetings that our partnership was of a strategic nature.

We will rely on our Vietnamese friends as well as all other ASEAN states to further promote this mutually beneficial cooperation. On some issues, Vietnam may well indicate the path towards additional areas of cooperation. As one possibility of this kind, let me mention the fact that Vietnam was the first ASEAN country to sign a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Following in Vietnam’s footsteps, some other ASEAN countries, including Singapore, started relevant negotiations. ASEAN as a whole, as an association, is keen on exploring the possibility of launching a dialogue on trade liberalisation with the EAEU. 

We have very good prospects ahead and we will be actively supporting our Vietnamese friends as they perform their functions as the ASEAN Chair. Along with the ASEAN chairmanship, they chair all ASEAN-centric forums, including the East Asia Summit.  

Question: Given the seriousness of issues on the Russia-ASEAN agenda, is it expedient and practicable to establish an organisation that would tackle these issues directly? Has a possibility of this sort been discussed?   Does it meet the interests of Russia and its ASEAN partners?

Sergey Lavrov: I have mentioned the fact that Russia was behind the establishment of a military medical collaboration mechanism long before the current outbreak of the coronavirus infection. This decision was approved several years ago, when ASEAN defence ministers and the defence ministers of partner countries were meeting in Thailand. Today, we have arranged with my colleagues to step up operations of this military medical collaboration mechanism under the aegis of the defence ministers’ meeting.  

As I said, at the initiative of Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor), all our ASEAN partners have agreed to set up a specialised organisation that would work to prevent and fight infectious diseases. Three-year courses to train infectious disease specialists have been started as a concrete project within the framework of this cooperation. The first courses were held in Vladivostok in December 2019. 

A third aspect is now on everyone’s lips. We noted an active development of the volunteer movement in the context of the coronavirus infection, a movement aimed at helping the vulnerable strata of the population (the elderly and people with disabilities).  Given that Russia has almost 150,000 active volunteers, who have started this work at their own initiative and are helping an estimated 3 million Russian citizens, who need this assistance under the current circumstances, we have suggested discussing if contacts could be established between the volunteer movements in Russia and the ASEAN countries. Why not help these young people to liaise and exchange best practices? Yet another people’s diplomacy movement could grow on this basis.

There are many opportunities. We have arranged to continue contacts on this matter between relevant services. I am confident that additional concrete initiatives will be put forward and that they will be implemented.

Question: Relations between the DPRK and South Korea have recently deteriorated. In your opinion, how serious could the consequences be and how will it affect the denuclearisation prospects for the Korean Peninsula? In particular, what steps can Moscow take to normalise the situation?

Sergey Lavrov: I already commented on this situation at yesterday’s news conference. We urge the Korean parties to show reserve and responsibility for what is happening on the peninsula, and to maintain a stable and calm situation there. We hope our calls will be heard.

We are not offering any services. When we return (I hope it will happen) to the six-party talks to solve the problems of the Korean Peninsula, we will be interested in resuming the interrupted multilateral dialogue on all issues of providing peace and stability in Southeast Asia. I am sure that it meets the interests of the Korean people on the both sides of the border, and all other countries in this important region.  

Question: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has urged the United States to play a more active role in the settlement in Libya. What does Moscow think about this statement?

Sergey Lavrov: We can only welcome any constructive assistance to the efforts to overcome a crisis, be it Libya, Syria or anywhere else.

I don’t know what concrete steps the United States can take to assist the Libyan settlement. They took part in the Berlin conference on Libya. Russia was represented there by President Vladimir Putin. They also signed the UN Security Council resolution which approved the decision of the Libyan conference. Washington emphasises that it recognises the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which is a party to the conflict.

If the United States can use its influence in the Libyan conflict to assist the efforts of Russia and other international players that call for an immediate ceasefire, it would be a very positive development. We will see.

Question: You have mentioned more than once the importance of international cooperation in combating the coronavirus infection. Today you have pointed out some countries’ attempts to politicise these efforts. Regrettably, we in China have seen that some countries, including the United States, have tried to shift their domestic coronavirus problems onto other countries, in particular China. In addition to this, the United States has withdrawn from the WHO. What do you think about this US policy? What measures should be taken to promote constructive international collaboration against the coronavirus infection, especially under the auspices of the WHO?

Sergey Lavrov: The Unites States, which is a leading international power in many respects, could actively promote international efforts in many areas, but, unfortunately, it has chosen to act otherwise. Instead of making use of its capabilities to promote collective action, it is leaving the formats where such efforts can be taken. The United States has withdrawn not only from the WHO but also from UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council, as well as from numerous agreements, starting with the Paris Climate Agreement and ending with the majority of documents on strategic stability and arms control, including nuclear arms control agreements. This is regrettable. We can see that these are not individual actions but a policy, a system and a strategy of pulling out of any agreements that impose any obligations on the United States, even if it is an obligation to cooperate and to look for mutually acceptable solutions.

The WHO is the leading mechanism for mobilising the efforts of all countries towards combating epidemics, pandemics and infections such as we are combating now. We do not see any factual grounds for accusing the WHO of bias or attempts to suppress facts or of failure to take appropriate measures on time. We believe that the organisation has been working in full compliance with its mandate. By the way, its mandate is not approved by the WHO Secretariat but by the member states. It should be noted that at the onset of the pandemic the WHO established a special coordinating unit for the pandemic. In January 2020, US national Maria Van Kerkhove was appointed Technical Lead of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

If you take a look at the national composition, that is, the geographical representation of the WHO Secretariat, you will see that a third of its more than 2,100 officials, or some 700 people, are representatives of Western countries, and primarily NATO states. Approximately 180 of them are American citizens. There are 27 Russians and 37 Chinese on the WHO Secretariat. There can be two reasons for criticising the WHO: either the member states make the wrong decisions which then nobody contests or the WHO Secretariat does not implement the decisions made. If the latter is true, we should look at who is responsible for the implementation of decisions in the Secretariat. However, I believe that this would be counterproductive and even not quite correct. We must not look for culprits but rally against a common threat. We can already report major achievements in this battle. Now we should consolidate them and push the matter through. We will definitely need the WHO to do this.

Of course, it may need to be improved, just like any other multilateral or national organisation. All countries, including the United States, are debating the need to reform their law enforcement agencies. But nobody is perfect, as they said in a Hollywood movie. So, we are for improvement and reform. But reform must be based on facts and the experience we gain in the fight against new risks and challenges, rather than on a desire to send a political message.

Question: I would like to ask about clashes between the Chinese and Indian military on the Line of Actual Control on the border between the two countries, in which dozens have been killed on both sides. Can you comment on this? Will you discuss this subject at the upcoming consultations with your Indian and Chinese counterparts in the RIC format?

Will the proposed videoconference on the coronavirus of the five UN Security Council permanent members be held? You said previously that the final document was almost ready but the sides still had some questions about it.  Have they been settled? Has the timeframe for the videoconference been coordinated? Will it be held before autumn?

Sergey Lavrov: It has been reported that the Indian and Chinese military have begun communicating with each other. They are discussing the situation and ways to de-escalate it. We welcome this.

A videoconference with the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China – the so-called RIC format – should be held in the next few days. We have coordinated the agenda. It does not include discussions on bilateral matters.

A videoconference with the UN Security Council permanent members was proposed by our French colleagues a while ago to coordinate the five countries’ position regarding support of the measures being taken against the coronavirus infection. Russia is fully satisfied with the draft of the final document. But some other countries had questions about formulating our attitude to the role of the WHO. This is why the conference has not been held yet. I am not aware that any proposals to resume this work have been made in the past six to eight weeks. At the same time, the five permanent members, who bear special responsibility for international peace and security in accordance with the UN Charter, have confirmed at various levels their support for President Putin’s idea of holding a meeting in person as soon as possible and that it should address not only the coronavirus infection but also all the other current topics that are influencing global politics, security and the economy.

I am sure that this meeting, for which we are actively preparing, can be held in the timeframe and on the site coordinated by the heads of state.

 

 

 

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