KUALA LUMPUR, April 25 (Xinhua) — Challenges lie ahead in building the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Community and Malaysia said it would take a leading role in the final push for it.

ASEAN is set to announce the establishment of ASEAN Community by the end of this year, a milestone for the 10-nation bloc. ASEAN leaders will meet on the first of its biannual summits this weekend to discuss the community building and outline the post- 2015 vision for further integration and development. “As chairman of ASEAN for 2015, Malaysia bears the responsibility to ensure that the agenda to establish the ASEAN Community by the end of this year will be materialized,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said.

Malaysia would focus on the implementation of the remaining action lines as contained in the three ASEAN Community Blueprints, as well as develop the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision, Anifah told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Malaysia has also pushed to create a “People-Centered ASEAN”, which is reflected in the theme of its chairmanship “our people, our community, our vision”.

Anifah said the ASEAN Community will bring about meaningful and positive change to the livelihood and well-being of its 633 million peoples, leading to higher standards of living and swifter social progress. “This is crucial to ensure that Southeast Asia remains not only economically vibrant and competitive but also the quality of life of its peoples is enriched,” He said.

Founded in 1967, ASEAN now groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In spite of the differences in politics, economic and social development and religions among its members, ASEAN has achieved great success in regional integration. “Consensus has always been the cornerstone of the so-called ‘ ASEAN Way’, which emphasizes mutual respect and non-interference,” said Oh Ei Sun, a political analyst and former political secretary to the Malaysian Prime Minister.

It has served ASEAN well, making ASEAN a flexible yet vibrant group thus far, Oh Ei Sun said.

The most significant achievement of the community-building process is the willingness of the 10 countries that commit to a single vision and future together, Said Tang Siew Mun, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

Of three pillars of ASEAN Community, namely the ASEAN Political- Security community (APSC), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), AEC has drawn most enthusiasm. It aims for a single market and a production base, a competitive economic region, equitable economic development and integration with the global economy.

However, a joint statement issued after an ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting held from Feb. 28 to March 1, 2015 admitted that ” The implementation of the AEC measures does not mean that ASEAN will become a single economic entity by Jan. 1, 2016.”

Analysts said despite the significant tariff cut among ASEAN members, lots of non-tariff barriers remain. Munir Majid, chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, told Xinhua earlier that many ASEAN’s small and medium enterprises are concerned over the fierce competition in a single market.

Meanwhile, the huge development gap among ASEAN members poses a great challenge to AEC.

But as analysts pointed out, the establishment of AEC does not mean “mission accomplished”. Oh Ei Sun said the less developed ASEAN countries will be the main beneficiaries of AEC.

Oh said another challenge is how ASEAN can carefully maintain its centrality in regional security consultations, as the group has set up various mechanisms for regional cooperation with its dialogue partners, including the Asian Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asia Summit.

Furthermore, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah said public awareness on ASEAN would also need to be increased. “Beyond 2015, ASEAN will see deeper and wider regional integration that would enable ASEAN to compete more effectively, and ensure its leadership role in the evolving regional architecture,” he added. –English.news.cn