'Asean engagement crucial'
ASEAN must strengthen its external relations with its dialogue partners and global community to ensure stability and prosperity in the region in establishing the Asean Community by 2015 and managing the interests of major powers and negotiating trade agreements.
The 10-member bloc must also remain united and double its efforts to develop a Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea to ensure the implementation of the Declaration of the COC in the South China Sea.
The 23rd Asean Summit chairman, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, in his address at the opening of the two-day summit yesterday, said Asean should continue to have deeper and more constructive relations with its dialogue partners, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, India and the United States to foster peace and greater prosperity in the region.
He said at the same time, it was also important for Asean to find ways of engaging other countries and regional organisations that Asean sees as potential partners.
"This is especially important in Asean's efforts to develop a COC for the South China Sea. The COC is now formally on the agenda of the officials' meetings and regular consultations would be held next year," he said, adding that Asean must maintain the momentum of dialogues and consultation, including with China, to implement the Declaration of the COC in the South China Sea.
China, Taiwan and Asean's Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have territorial claims in the disputed area of South China Sea.
On the Asean Community 2015, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said with two years left and despite the challenges in implementing the Community blueprint, Asean must maintain its financial stability and be an attractive and competitive destination for trade and investment.
"Asean must work together in areas such as trade facilitation and logistics to ease the way of doing business in the region."
Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh, in a statement, said the summit marked a very productive year for Asean Community 2015 building, adding that with two more years before the deadline, the implementation of the roadmap for an Asean Community showed considerable gains across all of the Asean Community's three pillars -- political, economic and socio-cultural.
"In my annual report to Asean leaders, we noted that we have seen a more concerted effort to assess and prioritise our work across the three pillars. We will remain focused on expediting the implementation of the remaining 2015 targets and ensuring greater convergence of the community pillars where peace, stability and development are each other's conditions and driving force."
According to Malaysian officials at the summit, the country was on track to embrace the Asean Community by 2015, having implemented 88 per cent of the measures and achievement of milestones committed in the Asian Economic Community (AEC) strategic schedule.
Out of the 331 measures, 261 had been implemented as at the end of July this year.
"Despite the challenges, we are confident of achieving this," said an official.
The main purpose of the AEC is to promote economic development towards uplifting the wellbeing of the people in the region and narrowing the development gap.
Regional integration pursued by the 10-member grouping also covers enhancing cooperation and facilitation in other economic sectors such as transport, telecommunications, agriculture, forestry, tourism, healthcare, mining, energy, customs, standards and conformance, intellectual property rights, competition policy and enhancing Asean connectivity.
The summit, themed "Our People, Our Future Together", yesterday also adopted the Bandar Seri Begawan Statement on the Asean Community's Post-2015 Vision; Report on the Mid-Term Review of the Asean Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint; Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Youth Entrepreneurship; Employment and Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Elimination of Violence Against Children in Asean; Asean Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection; and Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Non-communicable Diseases.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak¸ who is leading the Malaysian delegation to the summit, attended a series of related summits with Asean dialogue partners. Among senior leaders accompanying him are Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and Foreign Ministry secretary-general Datuk Othman Hashim.
Yesterday, Najib also held a bilateral meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the summit. He is expected to hold a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today.
Among the leaders present are Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The summit will also see the turnover of Asean chairmanship to Myanmar which will assume leadership for the first time in January next year.