By ERIC BELLMAN And MARTIN VAUGHAN 

JAKARTA—The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations pledged Sunday to continue the process of economic integration in the region, even as they failed to make much progress toward solving some high-profile problems, including a recent deadly border dispute between members Thailand and Cambodia.
The heads of the 10 countries that make up Asean concluded two days of meetings with a pledge to redouble efforts to complete economic integration by 2015 and to tackle food and energy crises amid soaring global commodity prices.
"The current crises in food and energy are placing greater needs in investments and research in agriculture," said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who chaired the Asean meeting.
Asean, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, has combined gross domestic products of around $1.8 trillion and a population of more than 500 million.

The meeting made little apparent progress on the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, though, as well as other sticky regional issues including competing claims to islands in the South China Sea and how to interact with member Myanmar's campaign to gain respect even as it is accused of widespread human-rights abuses.
European Pressphoto Agency
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa at the opening of the 
ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting ahead of the 18th ASEAN Summit.
 

The host country, Indonesia, has been hoping to raise its global profile by helping members of Asean address some of these problems. With Indonesia's economy booming, its transformation to a democracy confirmed and its efforts to lock up terrorist leaders gaining traction, Indonesia is aiming for a greater role regionally and globally.
"Ten years ago, political obituaries were written about Indonesia even as a state, and our economy was in a difficult situation," Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, told The Wall Street Journal. "We now enjoy the democratic dividend thanks to our transformation and now we are beginning at the global level to try to play a bit more of a role to put ourselves on radar screens."

Indonesia asked that its turn at the head of the regional group, a post that rotates each year between the members, be moved up to this year so that it could showcase its newfound confidence. It wants to not only demonstrate that it can handle the logistics and security at an event that hosts convoys of ministers and heads of state but also that it can nudge its neighbors to help improve growth, encourage stability and nurture democracy.
The Asean bloc has long been criticized by academics and economists for being something of a talk shop, without the political will to take serious steps to more closely integrate its economies. Some members have resisted a stronger Asean, favoring policies of noninterference in each other's affairs.
That has often kept the group focused on economic issues but the next steps toward further integration will demand more sacrifice from each member, members said.
Asean aims to create an integrated economic community by 2015 where there will be free movement of people, goods and services in the region. The grouping has made progress in areas such as infrastructure, goods trading and financial markets, but members say legal and constitutional issues could get in the way of reaching the goal of more complete integration.
"I think the easy part has been quickly achieved," said Gregory Domingo, Philippine trade and industry secretary. "Now it is the time to do the more difficult part; and it requires a lot more political will."
Indonesia says it wants an Asean that takes actions and doesn't just make joint declarations. While few of the region's toughest issues are likely to be solved right away, Mr. Natalegawa said Asean, under Indonesia's leadership, is trying to deepen its contributions to integration and conflict resolution.
The Asean-sponsored discussion of the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand is a test case of a more assertive Indonesia and Asean. For the first time the group is trying to spearhead efforts to solve a deadly problem between two nations. Another round of meetings between the two sides failed to reach an agreement Sunday.
Mr. Natalegawa said political posturing was stalling a resolution but Indonesia and Asean would keep pushing and stood ready to send in observers to help protect any cease-fire that could be agreed upon.
Another challenge for the region is how to deal with the military-backed government of Myanmar, which continues to draw sharp criticism from Western nations for alleged human-rights abuses. After staging its first elections in 20 years and releasing dissident Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest last year, it has asked to chair the Asean summit in 2014. Myanmar was forced to skip its turn in 2005 because of pressure from international groups.

Asean said Sunday that it was still considering Myanmar's request. While there are reservations about what kind of message it would send to endorse Myanmar's chairmanship in 2014, many members are willing to consider it, partly to encourage democracy in the country.
"The impression that I get is that Asean member countries are prepared to be open to the idea of a Myanmar chairmanship," said Mr. Natalegawa. "It is not a referendum on how we feel about Myanmar in 2011, it is a vision of how we would wish Myanmar could be in 2014."
— Andreas Ismar
contributed to this article.

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