Southeast Asian nations have concluded three-days of meetings in Cambodia after signing numerous cooperation agreements and meeting with the leaders of Japan, China, South Korea, India, and South Africa. The leaders made progress on lowering trade barriers with China and Japan and added India to their list of annual summit meetings.
Summit Chairman Hun Sen of Cambodia called the three days of meetings very productive. The Cambodian prime minister noted they had enlarged contacts with the nations of the region.
The 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations took further steps to integrate their economies with those of the three economic powers of northeast Asia, China, Japan, and South Korea.
Japan and ASEAN leaders agreed to draft a framework aimed at ending customs duties between Southeast Asia and the world's second-largest economy.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the agreement furthers Japan's long-standing policies in the region. He says Japan intends to promote more exchanges with Asian nations in all areas, political, economic, and cultural.
The accord follows an ASEAN agreement with China to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement next year.
There are fears that a free trade area with China could threaten many ASEAN producers with competition from low-cost goods from the Asian giant.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said this is a challenge that must be accepted.
"You have to take the good with the evil, I suppose," he said. "It will not be all benefits that ASEAN countries will receive. There will be some challenges."
Mr. Mahathir said China agreed that some exclusions may be necessary to protect industries that might suffer from the free trade agreement. Philippines President Gloria Arroyo told reporters that China assured ASEAN leaders it is not interested in devouring the region's resources, but in being a good citizen of the global community.
The ASEAN leaders also pledged to intensify cooperation against terrorism, following the bombings in Bali, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They will hold next year's summit in Bali to show support for the island's community and show their commitment to fight terrorism. However, they urged other governments to avoid issuing region-wide travel warnings that hurt the economies of countries that have not experienced terrorist attacks.
The leaders also agreed with China to refrain from hostile actions in the South China Sea, despite their territorial disputes over the Spratly and other islands there.
And the ASEAN leaders signed agreements pledging further cooperation in tourism and the fight against drug and human trafficking, sea piracy, money laundering and other cross-border crimes.