Kuala Lumpur - Asean's future, and even that of Asia, will be shaped by two events in the Malaysian capital this December: The inauguration of the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the drawing up of the Asean Charter. And the kind of future that Asean wants?
A grouping that can think and act strategically as one so that Southeast Asia can become a major intermediary between the two Asian giants, India and China, said Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo.
For instance, if member countries can agree to an Asean open-skies policy, the grouping can negotiate open-skies agreements with other regions from a position of strength.
"We must not be left behind in Asean because good and cheap air links are absolutely essential for the operation of a modern economy," Mr Yeo said in a speech at the Global Leadership Forum in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 6.
"Provided we do the right things in Asean, the growth of China and India will sweep us strong in this century. If China and India are able to maintain good relations with each other – and the signs are good – this will be a golden century for Asia."
However, Mr Yeo cautioned that Asean, in positioning itself between China and India, must also take into account the interests of the United States, Japan,Europe and Australia "so that they, too, want us to succeed".
The East Asia Summit - which brings Asean's 10 members, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand – will help Asean "build the long-term architecture of peace and cooperation in Asia, with Asean at the centre".
As for the Asean Charter, the mini-constitution is aimed at helping the grouping achieve its goal of establishing an Asean Community by 2020. By that date, Asean hopes to create ties that bind for its 500 million people in security, economic and social/cultural areas.
The Asean charter "cannot be drawn up overnight", said Mr Yeo.
"Neither will it be the be-all and end-all of the Asean construction. However, it does represent a key milestone on an exciting journey. There is no other road. Either we become stronger as a region, or we will fragment."
* Reposition Asean for a new world (The Straits Times, Sept 8)