The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seeks to become a united community by 2015, but not to emulate the European Union (EU), a senior official says.
The comment came as Southeast Asian foreign ministers gathered in Hanoi this week, pushing an agenda centered on the vision of a unified bloc.
In his opening speech at the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the community must be politically harmonious, economically integrated and socially responsible.
The organization has entered a new stage of development, he noted.
ASEAN General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan said the regional bloc does not envision a European-style economic community but one that takes into account the diversity in culture, history and governance among nations.
"We cannot be the same as the EU," Pitsuwan told reporters. "Economically, the gap [among members] is very big and wide."
Pitsuwan said ASEAN needed to deal with the gap through its own initiatives in improving economic integration and through cooperation with its 11 dialogue partners that include major powers like China, Japan, the US, and the EU.
The general secretary, however, stressed that ASEAN must keep its "central" position in the East Asia region, and become an effective body that can maintain regional security.
Earlier in the week, the foreign ministers 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 strictly. They also called for intensifying cooperation to assist people and vessels in distress at sea, as well as among homeland security chiefs of member states.
On July 21 the ministers released a statement asking all parties to respect freedom of navigation in and overflight above the East Sea and calling for a meeting to be reconvened between ASEAN and China on the implementation of the DOC.
He said the regional bloc hopes to maintain peace and safety of the shipping lanes in the East Sea, "which are important for all of us, both East and West," Pitsuwan said.
The ministers are also expected to officially recommend Russia and the US for East Asia Summit (EAS) membership to ASEAN leaders during the 17th summit in Hanoi this October. EAS is a forum held annually by leaders from the 10 members of ASEAN and China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
However, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yong-Boon Yeo said the ministers agreed that the EAS must be ASEAN-led and that the addition would not weaken EAS' priorities.
"We are now working on the modalities, which take into account future challenges and also safeguard the agenda's items and priorities at the EAS, including the free trade agreement and the very important discussion of connectivity," Yeo said.
The region's main security forum, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), opens July 23 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 arrived here July 22 and attended a ceremony commemorating the 15th anniversary of US-Vietnam diplomatic relations, will start discussions with North Korea's foreign minister and all members of the disarmament talks.