Lee for ASEAN Economic Integration; Singapore Premier Pushes Regional Cooperation Time to Keep Up with China and India - Lee

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SINGAPORE (AFP) -- Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday called on the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work together to accelerate economic integration in order to keep up with Asian giants China and India.

A landmark charter and a blueprint for an economic community to be signed at next week's ASEAN summit will bring the bloc closer together, but more needs to be done, Lee said.

"Our countries offer complementary advantages to businesses, and a neutral core around which the rest of Asia can build economic ties, and a regional framework of cooperation,'' he told a gathering of business leaders.

"To sustain this, ASEAN itself has to become more integrated and cohesive,'' he said. ''Only thus can we keep up with larger and stronger economies like China and India.''

ASEAN states must show the "political will'' to implement both the charter and the economic community blueprint, which sets the stage for a single market and production base by 2015, Lee said.

He said the blueprint and the charter, which marks the first time that the 40-year-old bloc will codify its basic principles and organizational rules, would be "critical in enhancing ASEAN's credibility and attracting investors. …