Top diplomats look beyond COVID-19 and the challenge of rebuilding
The idea that the end of the pandemic may be near was recently branded as “plausible” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Even the US’ Dr. Anthony Fauci has been quite optimistic while urging us all not to let our guard down. At this point, every sliver of good news (no matter how vague), is enough to bring so much hope to people. We can’t be stuck in this unforgiving loop forever, right?
It should end at some point and when it finally does, what’s next? This week, we’re asking top diplomats about game plans.
AMB. STEVEN J. ROBINSON
“Australia, really wants to get back out there, get active, and open up to the rest of the world,” says Ambassador Robinson. Like most countries, Australia’s tourism industry was hit badly and their people—known for their love of travel—found themselves unable to leave for their own safety. Thankfully, Australia’s borders are slowly opening up, now allowing inbound and outbound travel for their citizens and permanent residents.
“What I want is to see Australians traveling again. One of the things I’ve been advocating is they should come (to the Philippines),” he added. “Many Australians, when they think of Southeast Asia, they think of Indonesia, Thailand, and increasingly Vietnam. So I want them to come here, if I can possibly manage it.”
According to the ambassador, Australia has been really interested in being more present in Southeast Asia. Trade relations and economic partnerships with countries like the Philippines remain valuable. “What we do across this region now… it’s going to be really quite key in terms of how the region progresses, because there’s some tension here, and we want to help our partners, our friends, and that means the Philippines,” he says.
While the pandemic has been tough on everyone, there are learnings and new practices that we can all take with us. Flexibility in how people work is one of them, but Amb. Robinson admits there are important things like human interaction, which we should go back to once we can. Making a connection and bouncing off ideas in person are so different from doing it over WebEx, after all.
“I think there are good things that have come from the pandemic in terms of what we’ve learned, and the way the business and banking operates and all that digitalization and connectivity. But at the same time there’s some fundamentals that don’t change just because of human nature,” he explains.
AMB. HUANG XI LIAN
“China is the first country to bring the virus under effective control, resume work and production, and reverse the economic downturn,” says Ambassador Huang. With one of its biggest cities considered as ground zero, China is known for its strict pandemic measures and its focus on keeping its economy alive. “China has always adhered to the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind, and has actively contributed to global anti-epidemic cooperation and economic recovery,” he says.
So far, China has provided vaccine assistance to 105 countries and four international organizations and exported more than 1.8 billion vaccine doses to more than 60 countries. The ambassador adds that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructure investment program of the Chinese government in other countries, did not slow down during the pandemic. Through the BRI, the ambassador says China commits to staying away from “isolation and a zero-sum game.” Their focus has shifted to community building, openness, and mutual benefit.
“Considering that the global epidemic situation is still severe, and the prospects for economic recovery are uncertain, China will remain firm and consistent in giving strong support to other countries in their fight against COVID-19 and rebuilding a better world after the pandemic,” he says.
AMB. MICHELE BOCCOZ
For France, multilateralism remains at the core of its actions toward a more resilient, more inclusive post-pandemic world. “COVID-19 showed the vulnerabilities of health systems in both developed and developing countries, which is why France has been among the earliest and most significant supporters of international mechanisms to improve the capacities of health systems, ensure equitable access to vaccines, and strengthen universal health care in order to be better prepared in the long term,” says Ambassador Boccoz. France has, so far, donated over six million vaccine doses to the Philippines through the COVAX facility.
Post pandemic, the ambassador wants to go back to one of her country’s most important causes. “Another priority of France is working toward a more gender-inclusive world, where women and girls are able to fully and freely pursue their education and careers without fear of discrimination or harassment, and also be able to independently decide for their bodies,” she says.
She adds that in a post-pandemic world, where women make up over 75 percent of health workers, protecting women is even more important. In 2021, France hosted the Generation Equality Forum. It is considered as one of the most important international gatherings to accelerate multi-stakeholder reforms for gender equality and women’s rights. “As part of its commitment, France has allocated 90 million euros to support the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in ensuring that more women have access to reproductive health products and services,” she says.
AMB. ANKE REIFFENSTUEL
“This pandemic has shown that we live in a global village, that we need to think beyond national approaches and borders,” says Amb. Reiffenstuel. “Global challenges mean they affect everyone, no matter where you live and in what circumstances.” She footnotes that though we all wish to wake up one day without a pandemic, the process for recovery will still be a comprehensive and challenging process.
According to the ambassador, while the pandemic is now becoming an endemic phenomenon, everyone’s contribution is needed for it to be successful. “Getting vaccinated is the most important thing everyone can do,” she says.
Germany, a country that strongly supports the development of vaccines, has donated over 11 million vaccine doses to the Philippines. BioNtech, Pfizer’s partner in creating mRNA vaccines, is a German company.
The ambassador sees this crisis as an opportunity to rebuild better, urging others to invest in green recovery and prioritizing renewable energies. “The recent Typhoon Odette, killing hundreds of people, destroying the livelihoods and homes of millions, illustrates that our full commitment is needed in order to successfully address the massive impacts of climate change,” she says.
Germany’s comprehensive international climate initiative programs have given a focus on the Philippines, one of the most affected countries. So far, it has provided €65 million for project funding in bilateral and regional projects in the country.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS SECRETARY (SFA) TEODORO LOCSIN JR.
Sec. Locsin, thankful to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año for taking the bitter pill, recalls the tough decisions and what had to be done from the beginning of the pandemic.
“That is our role: to provide a measure of containment until a saving solution can be found, to limit casualties, and when the solution is found, to implement it across one of the biggest, most widespread archipelagos in the world,” he says. “It means doing all you can with whatever you have, changing strategies and tactics adroitly—back and forth, back and forth. And showing by example that we can take what we dish out.”
That role, he adds, doesn’t end within the confines of our borders. The end of the pandemic still means more work lies ahead. “The plan is the same and was not changed by the pandemic: to make sure that all boats rise with the same tide, the tide of cure and sustainable existence…be the boats small or big, whether rowed by the poor or sailed for the rich—one law to rule them all, thereby ensuring to the extent possible the same outcome of safety for all or as many as [those who] followed the government’s safety protocols and received its direct assistance,” he says.
Help is promised to the most vulnerable, says Sec. Locsin, as the country had done for refugees of past crises. “Now and for the foreseeable future that is our role in building a better world. Our role is to talk by action worthy to serve as example. And we are good at it,” he concludes.