TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan and five Southeast Asian countries along the Mekong River vowed Thursday to work together to improve their health care systems and strengthen economic ties in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"Achieving Universal Health Coverage with better prevention of, detection of and response to public health emergencies is essential to human health and human security, especially in addressing future pandemics," Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his counterparts affirmed in a videoconference according to a co-chairs' statement.
Universal health coverage ensures that every person can access health care services without suffering financial hardship. The foreign ministers made the statement in reference to the worldwide spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Mekong countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam -- expressed their appreciation for Japan's provision of more than $100 million worth of medical equipment and technical assistance through grants and contributions to international organizations.
Japan on Thursday pledged a further 1 billion yen ($9.3 million) in aid for grassroots projects by nongovernmental organizations, such as for the improvement of farming productivity in Cambodia and improving accessibility to clean water in Laos.
The countries agreed to restart economic activity together in a post-COVID-19 world by "establishing resilient and sustainable regional supply chains" and advancing free trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The foreign ministers have met annually since 2008 and had been slated to gather this summer in Tokyo, but they were forced to move to a virtual setting due to the coronavirus.