ASEAN-China Cooperation: Alleviating Poverty Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic

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ASEAN-China Cooperation: Alleviating Poverty Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic
KIRAN SAGOO, PhD
27 Aug 2020
Health, Health and COVID-19

ASEAN’s impressive progress in reducing poverty is currently under threat of being reversed due to COVID-19.

With growth estimated to decelerate to only one percent in 2020, there is a risk of those lifted out of absolute poverty falling back into poverty. One-third or more of the working population in seven ASEAN countries are in vulnerable employment, facing the risk of unemployment. Also at risk are youth who will be unable to join the workforce due to decreasing economic growth.

The positive pace and trend in poverty reduction, which was expected to nearly eradicate poverty in most ASEAN countries by 2030, appears to be derailed by COVID-19. Two-thirds of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 to improve people’s lives by 2030 also appear unlikely to be met.

Against this background, the 2020 Extraordinary ASEAN-China Social Development and Poverty Reduction Forum was held on 29 July 2020 to address the poverty dimension brought about by COVID-19. The online forum was co-hosted by the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of China (LGOP) and the ASEAN Secretariat, and organised by the International Poverty Reduction Center in China (IPRCC).

Promoting Poverty Alleviation

Eighty officials from relevant agencies in China and ASEAN countries, as well as representatives from international organisations and non-governmental organisations, participated in the forum.

Addressing the theme of “Joining Hands and Fighting against COVID-19, Promoting Poverty Alleviation,” participants shared key initiatives on poverty reduction undertaken by their respective countries due to the pandemic. Initiatives included providing economic stimulus at the local level, promoting digital inclusion and entrepreneurship, establishing village funds, as well as other measures to empower communities, including women and youth.

It clearly emerged that timely and decisive actions are crucial for safeguarding the life and well-being of poor and vulnerable groups. There is also a need for increased and sustained investment in social protection, human capital development, knowledge-building, and targeted interventions to tackle the multi-dimensional nature of poverty.

Fighting COVID-19

The forum noted ASEAN’s development of a recovery framework and action plan that will steer the direction of recovery from the crisis. Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, Kung Phoak, shared that “… a common understanding and ensuing actions on multi-dimensional and non-income poverty at the regional level will help us to effectively address deprivation and vulnerabilities.” He also looked forward to the development of the ASEAN Rural Development and Poverty Eradication (RDPE) Masterplan to which the wealth of experiences and expertise from China can be of tremendous relevance.

The unprecedented challenges in poverty reduction for ASEAN countries and China, due to the pandemic, were noted by ASEAN-China Center Secretary-General Chen Dehai. Nevertheless, he shared that the pandemic has resulted in a number of new industries and business forms, such as the digital economy, which should be harnessed. Deng Xijun, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to ASEAN, called for expanded cooperation in emerging industries, such as e-commerce, clean energy, and 5G.

Joining Hands

Su Guoxia, Director-General of the General Affairs Department and Spokesperson of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of China, affirmed that the Chinese government will continue to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN Member States to jointly promote international exchanges and cooperation in poverty reduction in the post-pandemic era.

Using ASEAN platforms, such as the ASEAN Plus Three Summit, ASEAN countries and China have been providing valuable support and assistance to each other in combating the COVID-19 epidemic. The Joint Statement of the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 issued in April 2020 reaffirmed ASEAN and China’s commitment and strong partnership.

ASEAN Economic Ministers and the Minister of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China have also issued a Joint Statement on Combating the Coronavirus Disease and Enhancing ASEAN-China Free Trade Area Cooperation.

As no country alone can effectively deal with the complexities of the pandemic and its devastating effects, cooperation and partnership must be sustained.

ASEAN Secretariat’s Poverty Eradication and Gender Division contributed to this article.

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