However, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is expanding --- with the likelihood of welcoming Timor Leste as the 11th member at this summit and the inclusion of global powers the United States and Russia as its dialogue partners in the Asean-initiated, security-oriented East Asia Summit (EAS) -- there are still some worrying issues for the regional grouping to address.
These include member countries' reluctance to turn agreements and declarations by Asean leaders at their summits into implementation by their respective countries, and Asean's reduced centrality with the participation of dominant world heavyweights as the grouping's dialogue partners.
Regarding the issue of integration, for example, despite an agreement that member countries allow nationals of fellow Asean states to visit their countries without visas, this has not been put into practice by some member countries. There is also concern that opening up EAS to the US and Russia may cause Asean to lose the sense of control as convener of the forum.
Asean appears to focus on expansion, rather than strengthening its integration or maintaining its centrality.
Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, a former Thai foreign minister, was one who expressed his concern about these issues in an interview earlier this week.
Surin complained about a "slow, frustrating, and difficult" process of turning agreements and declarations by Asean leaders into implementation. "Translating regional visions into national implementation is challenging," he said.
The Asean chief noted that although more than 70 per cent of the agreements and declarations were ratified by member countries' respective parliaments, it was still "very, very slow" for them to issue or amend their laws to put into practice what the leaders said yes to. This was particularly true for issues that may affect those countries' national interest or upset powerful local interest groups.
Surin gave as an example an agreement for the control of haze caused by forest fire on Indonesia's Sumatra Island that affected fellow Asean nations like Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. While other countries ratified the agreement, Indonesia has failed to do so, he noted.
Regarding his concern about Asean's reduced centrality, Surin says that as more heavyweights were becoming its dialogue partners, particularly in the EAS, the regional grouping risks "being directed from behind by outsiders".
Surin said although the participation of world powers would benefit the grouping in many ways, "Asean will have to be extremely careful not to overload our own forum to the point where Asean will be unable to maintain its centrality and leadership as convener of the forum".
With the participation of the US and Russia in Bali this year, the EAS now has 18 members -- including the 10 Asean countries, and regional powers Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.
Surin said Asean needed "a mechanism or working process that gives us a sense of control, of balance, and of ownership". He added that Asean's major dialogue partners had the agenda of defending their sometimes conflicting interests through Asean forums.
In response to such concern, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, on behalf of the summit host country, said on Wednesday that Asean would come up with "some kind of code of conduct, some kind of certain norms, within which countries conduct or carry on their activities within our region".
Unlike Surin, Natalegawa appeared to show no worry about growing dominance of world powers in Asean forums. "I know some have asked if opening up the EAS to Russia and the US will cause us to lose the sense of centrality. On the contrary, I think we have a far better chance now than before of having some kind of a regime to govern the behaviour or conduct of these bigger [non-Asean] countries because they are now part of the norm-setting situation," he said.
It needs to be seen whether Surin's concern is warranted and whether Natalegawa's "code of conduct" in response to such concern will be working.
However, it appears Asean countries still value national interest over the common benefit of the grouping that sometimes may be in conflict with the individual member country's interest or the benefit of some local powerful groups. Asean is unlikely to fulfill its goal of integration if things continue to be like this.