PETALING JAYA - The setting up of the ASEAN Community by the end of this year will be a top priority for the regional body as Malaysia rolls out the red carpet to welcome leaders from member countries who will be gathering in Kuala Lumpur for the 26th ASEAN Summit.
As the chair of ASEAN this year, Malaysia will be in the driver's seat to steer the region towards the ASEAN Community, a plan to create a common economic, political-security and socio-cultural region, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.
Anifah said Malaysia also has the responsibility to help the regional grouping find the way forward post-2015 after the ASEAN Community has been set up.
"It is crucial for leaders to come together to discuss the way forward for the establishment of the ASEAN Community.
"There is a need for ASEAN to close ranks and work together for the bloc to remain strong, cohesive and relevant in the years to come," said Anifah in an e-mail-interview with The Star.
This will be the fourth time that Malaysia is chairing ASEAN following previous stints in 1977, 1997 and 2005.
ASEAN was established in 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by its five founding members - Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore. Since then, the grouping has grown with the addition of five other members - Brunei, Cambodia, Laos. Vietnam and Myanmar.
Anifah said Malaysia has the herculean task to see through the implementation of the blueprints to set up the three pillars that make up the ASEAN Community, namely the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC),
"We have set a target to complete the drafting of the post-2015 Economic Vision which will chart the regional economic direction for the next 10 years," he said.
Bearing in mind the low level of awareness on the benefits of an ASEAN Community, Anifah said Malaysia would increase ASEAN's engagement with the society and to create better awareness on what the Community brings to the people and country.
Anifah said that as chairman, Malaysia is also taking the opportunity to promote its call for moderation throughout the region.
"We will continue emphasising the importance of moderation as one of the core values in addressing conflicts and finding solutions to issues concerning regional peace and security."