SINGAPORE - Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has agreed that by the end of 2015, the 10 ASEAN nations will achieve their aim of becoming one community.
However, he also agreed with journalists that a considerable development gap could still exist between old and new members.
Talking about Singapore's contributions to reducing this gap, PM Lee said in countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Viet Nam had growth rates were generally higher than in the more developed parts of ASEAN.
The Singaporean PM was addressing media men participating at the sixth ASEAN Journalists Visit Programme which took place in the Garden City from September 16 to 22.
Lee said that in terms of development, Singapore had the Initiative for ASEAN Integration, human-resource development programmes, technical co-operation programmes where officials from new ASEAN members get exposed in Singapore to its departments, how things are done - and pick up ideas which they can implement back home.
"And I think that that is probably the most effective way Singapore can help the new countries develop their economies."
Asked if the deadline for the ASEAN Community on December 31, 2015, was achievable, he said: "From what our officials tell me, I think on the economic community side, we have 80-85 per cent of the work done. I don't think that we will reach 100 per cent of the things which we have sketched out for 2015, but we will reach the bulk of it.".
PM Lee, who has just spent three days in Viet Nam at the launch of a Strategic Partnership agreement between Singapore and Viet Nam, said: "This sets out the areas where we can co-operate together - economic, educational, cultural, social, human resources development, including political co-operation .
During the visit, he visited central Quang Ngai Province, where work began on the fifth Viet Nam-Singapore Industrial Park Project.
"I was told it was one of the least affluent parts of the country, but there is potential because there is land, you have hydrocarbons with gas and oil there. You have workers, people willing to work and we are building an industrial park there. I think the investments will come and the jobs will be created. And the development will follow. So I think that I am optimistic on Viet Nam."