ASEAN seeks to consolidate, maintain "central' position

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Southeast Asian ministers are gathering in Vietnam this week to push ahead with the bloc's vision of becoming a united community by 2015.

In his opening speech at ASEAN's 43rd Ministerial Meeting, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said ASEAN has entered a new stage of development and members must work to address the association's central role in maintaining regional security.

"We are fully aware that much remains to be done in order to realize the goal of the ASEAN community, which must be politically harmonious, economically integrated and socially responsible," he said.

ASEAN General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan said the world's center of growth was shifting from North America to East Asia and the bloc must maintain that centrality.

"We will talk about things such as how to build roads, rails, air transport, and telecommunication to connect each of us with the rest," he said.

"This requires investment and resources, from us, international financial institutions and dialogue partners in order to make ASEAN better connected," he added.

ASEAN foreign ministers on Monday agreed that documents ratified by the bloc like the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) must be adhered to, for maintaining security in the region.

The ministers also called for intensifying cooperation to assist people and vessels in distress at sea, as well as among homeland security chiefs of member states.

The region's main security forum, ARF, will open on Friday with the added participation of China, the US, EU and North Korea. Issues likely to dominate the ARF talks are elections in Myanmar and tensions over North Korea.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who arrives here Thursday, is scheduled to take part in ARF discussions and attend ceremonies to commemorate the 15th anniversary of US-Vietnam diplomatic relations.

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