Southeast Asia will "chart its own course" as it deepens economic linkages, building on the successes and learning from the mistakes of the European Union, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday.
Speaking at a summit of Asian and European leaders in Laos, Najib said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was on course to establish an economic community by 2015.
"It is our chance to restate the case for economic cooperation across borders," he said on the first day of the Asia-Europe Meeting, held against the backdrop of the festering eurozone debt crisis.
"Of course, Asia is not Europe. But the fundamental principles behind free trade are the same wherever you are in the world."
Najib said the ASEAN economic community aims to boost trade among the 10 member states by reducing barriers, harmonising rules and easing the flow of goods and services.
ASEAN has however taken a cautious approach to accommodate the needs of its diverse membership, which ranges from communist-ruled states to democracies and a sultanate at various levels of economic development.
The regional bloc has shied away from talk of a single currency like the euro or setting up a mechanism like the EU, a common central bank or other related institutions.
"ASEAN will chart its own course, building on the successes of the European project whilst learning from its failures," Najib said.