ASEAN and EU to hold health summit

The ninth Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union (ASEAN-EU) Summit will be held in Singapore today. Today’s summit begins amidst

ASEAN EU meeting

Photo: ASEAN

The ninth Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union (ASEAN-EU) Summit will be held in Singapore today.

Today’s summit begins amidst the backdrop of COVID-19. Panels will cover healthcare issues including pandemic preparedness and healthcare financing. These topics align with existing EU diplomatic efforts to increase soft power and visibility in the region, especially surrounding COVID-19 support.

The EU has donated over $1 Billion  to COVAX for vaccine distribution in developing nations. By 2022, around 32 million doses are expected to reach Southeast Asia. Sending money to COVAX and not vaccines directly to countries, while multilateral, is not beneficial to increasing EU presence. Hence, China has been more visible in its bilateral approach. 29% of Beijing’s total vaccine donations and 25.6% of its vaccine sales are to Southeast Asia. These were met with public government praise. China’s direct, publicized donations ensured their effectiveness in exerting soft power through vaccine distribution.

While increasing its visibility via vaccine support was less effective than China, expect the EU to eagerly continue the momentum of its strategic partnership with ASEAN. The EU wishes to establish a recognized soft power presence in the region. Whether China will view this with alarm is yet to be seen.

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