The RSIS Webinar Series “COVID-19 and Regional Multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific” hosted by the Centre for Multilateralism Studies on 18 February 2022 saw panellists deliberating on the region’s multilateral response to the pandemic and assessing how the region was affected by nearly two years of pandemic amid geopolitical uncertainties.
Addressing ASEAN’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Fitriani, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, noted that regional multilateral platforms have helped ASEAN member states create collective strategies to tackle the pandemic amid intensifying competition between China and the United States. She emphasised the need for ASEAN to ensure that markets remain open, trade flow continues and supply chain connectivity persists.
Leading with a perspective on green finance and investment, Dr Tomoo Kikuchi, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University, noted that the biggest challenge in Asia would be the increasing energy consumption trend until 2050. He argued that green finance and investment would reinforce the asymmetries in global capital flows and disproportionately increase production costs in Asia. Governments in the region must invest more in infrastructure while companies must invest more in R&D.
Taking stock of the state of South Asian regionalism, Dr Sinderpal Singh, Coordinator of the South Asia Programme at RSIS, highlighted the debate being played out in New Delhi, showing that economic liberalisation at the multilateral level has not helped India. This might have prompted India’s decision to not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). New Delhi had decided around 2014 that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was going nowhere, and has channelled its time and resources into the sub-regional grouping, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), instead.
The webinar concluded with Dr Tess Newton Cain, Project Leader for the Griffith Asia Institute’s Pacific Hub, giving her assessment of how the Pacific regional architecture has responded to the pandemic. While the Pacific Island countries were able to avoid the worst impacts of COVID-19, the economic contraction across the region was significant, at 4.3% in 2020. The silver lining was in COVID-19 catalysing a regional conversation on the need to diversify economies.
Watch it here on RSISVideoCast Youtube Channel: