This weekend until Monday, 27 April, Malaysia will host the 26th ASEAN Summit, marking the fourth time that Malaysia is chairing the 10-country-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), since the grouping was founded in 1967.
Expectations are high, with all eyes focused on Malaysia as the event provides the perfect opportunity for Malaysia to elevate its profile to the international community as the world will be witnessing the establishment of a much-anticipated ASEAN Community by the end of this year.
While Jakarta is basking in the limelight after hosting the Asia-Africa Conference, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi are going through the final touches for their big day. Malaysia is all set to roll out the red carpet to welcome fellow Southeast Asian leaders to the Summit.
The ASEAN Community consists of three pillars; namely the ASEAN Political and Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community, and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Central to this integration is the establishment of a single market and integrated production base within ASEAN.
Touted as the region’s flagship cooperation project, the ASEAN Community will eventually see zero tariff and free movement of goods, services and investments within the group.
Integrating the people of different cultures and economic backgrounds - to create a sense of belonging within the ASEAN Community - remains a tough challenge.
Stewart Forbes, Executive Director at the Malaysia International Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said in an interview: “I don’t sense an ASEAN Community spirit, or mentality within ASEAN. I still see 10 individual nations that are coming together economically.
“And I wouldn't say that’s not to be expected - that’s probably how you should do it, create that economic union and then let the social part of it grow. It’s very difficult to impose a social regime on people - you can impose economic regime, that’s just numbers, and rules and regulations; social has to come from within as well.”
Towards this end, Malaysia is pushing to raise awareness of the single ASEAN Community as it drafts the post-2015 Vision that will guide ASEAN for the next 10 years.