KUALA LUMPUR - ASEAN policies for the future must be based on inclusiveness and sustainability if the regional body is to narrow the development gap between member nations, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
He said the ten ASEAN countries were currently at different stages of progress, adding that focus needed to be given to the development agenda if ASEAN was to emerge as an integrated community.
"Our ten member states are at different stages…and narrowing these gaps is not optional.
"It is essential if we are to build a truly integrated ASEAN, which is why inclusiveness and sustainability must be at the heart of our policies going forward," the Prime Minister said when officiating the 48th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) at the Putra World Trade Centre on Tuesday.
He said ASEAN was on course to become the world's fourth largest economy by 2050, after the United States, European Union and China, and could likely emerge as a "third force" in Asia.
"We already have the third biggest workforce, after India and China, and it is entirely realistic for us to see ourselves as a 'third force' in Asia," he said.
Najib, who leads Malaysia's chairmanship of ASEAN for 2015, urged his counterparts not to doubt the region's potential as various international reports had offered a very promising outlook of ASEAN's economic performance.
"If ASEAN is sometimes underestimated, we must be careful that we are not guilty of that ourselves.
"We should be confident about our future, and we should be vocal about our confidence," he said.
Najib also thanked the high level task force that is working on the draft of the ASEAN Community Post-2015 Vision, which will be launched in December.
The document will provide ASEAN with a concrete roadmap for the next ten years and establish the ten-nation association as a single community, in line with its motto of "One Vision, One Identity, One Community".
Present at the opening ceremony were ASEAN Foreign Ministers and senior officials, who have been here since Saturday to participate in the AMM, which is one of the biggest events in the regional body's annual calendar.
The ten ASEAN foreign ministers are expected to hold meetings with their counterparts including US Secretary of State John Kerry, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi.