The development gap is the key constraint for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work together to achieve an ASEAN community by 2015, said Chheang Vannarith, an ASEAN expert of Cambodia.
"To narrow the gap between richer nations and poorer countries, ASEAN needs to do more to assist its least developed countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to develop, especially in human resources development and infrastructure connectivity," Vannarith, who is also the executive director of Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said in an recent interview with Xinhua.
At the meantime, he said that to build a strong and unified community, the ASEAN needs to have one voice on the global stage in issues relevant to common interests, particularly those issues dealing with human security.
"An ASEAN in one voice can assist ASEAN member countries to have more leverage on the regional and global stages," he said.
To achieve the ASEAN in one voice, he said each member country "must hold the definition of national interest is the regional interests" and the ASEAN community has to realize one vision and one identity plus one destiny.
Also, it needs to strengthen regional institution the ASEAN Secretariat and its relevant bodies in providing a common platform for ASEAN's foreign policy on the global stage.
Vannarith said ASEAN also needs to build mutual trust among each other in order to secure security and prosperity in the region.
"ASEAN leaders need to talk more with each other in rather an informal way in order to understand each other more," he said. "So far, the ASEAN is facing with the politics of ceremony. ASEAN needs to be more substantive and actions oriented."
And for credibility building between ASEAN and powerful countries, he said "frank and open discussions" at working level need to be strengthened and think tanks need to engage more actively with government officials to think and design action plans together.
Also, ASEAN needs to stay resilient with consistent and persistent foreign policy and approaches.
As for the issue of South China Sea, Vannarith said "Regional issues need purely regional response. Extra regional actors should not intervene and stir the tension," adding that "we should look at the South China Sea issue from economic point of view and concerned parties need to strengthen both bilateral and multilateral dialogues."
Vannarith said that to bridge closer relations with ASEAN, China needs to promote more cultural and educational exchanges between the peoples of China and ASEAN, and more academic discussions and joint research projects are required.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.