Wen Jiabao, on his first visit abroad as premier, set his stall out to tell the world that China's new leadership meant business in joining forces with its Southeast Asian neighbours to combat Sars. Mr Wen's appeal for international understanding of China's Sars crisis came after the nation was criticised for its slow response to tackling the original outbreak. But at the special summit called by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, Mr Wen sought to bridge the credibility gap. 'Ours is a responsible government. The responsibility is not only to our people, but also to the world,' he told the summit. China pledged 10 million yuan (HK$9.4 million) to launch a special Sars fund and joined the regionwide confidence-building moves to take co-ordinated action in fighting the disease. The nation also proposed hosting an international symposium next month to review and map out strategies in the fight against Sars. Mr Wen, who received a warm reception from Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said that 'friends in need are friends indeed'. Political observers in Bangkok noted that Mr Wen could not have chosen a more congenial place to make his first foreign visit, although the focus on Sars made the occasion a sombre one. 'Premier Wen knew that he would not be embarrassed by coming to Bangkok,' said one Asian diplomat. Mr Thaksin, known in political circles for his pro-Beijing stance, demonstrated clearly his support for the Chinese leader, expressing his full confidence that China would overcome its present difficulty to contain the outbreaks. Mr Wen also pushed all the right buttons. He highlighted the human suffering in China and the daunting task faced by the new leadership, which took office just over a month ago. He also struck a sympathetic note with the leaders of developing countries, admitting that China's public health system was inadequate in the battle to contain the disease. Without underestimating the magnitude of the task, he said his government was doing all it could to halt the spread of Sars to the countryside. 'Chinese leaders and people have learned a lot [from the experience],' Mr Wen said. Andrew Ng, head of research at the Bangkok office of the investment bank ABN Amro, said the Asean leaders had shown a good deal of goodwill towards Mr Wen and basically trusted his promise to stamp out Sars in China by implementing strict departure and arrival screening. Mr Ng attributed the co-operative and forward-looking atmosphere to a prevailing recognition that China would be an important part of the Southeast Asian landscape in the years to come. 'Sars could be the catalyst for closer collaboration for other regional issues,' he said. Asean and China last November signed a framework agreement to create a Free Trade Area, aiming at liberalising and promoting trade in goods and services in the region. While worried about the economic fallout from Sars, which has hit tourism and air travel, Asean leaders also understood that the recovery could be speedy once the confidence returned, Mr Ng said. But the Asian diplomat said Mr Wen could have shown more contrition by making an apology for the cover-up of the initial outbreak that wasted valuable time in detecting and preventing the disease.