The realization of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Community and its post-2015 progress will be the main concern as the leaders of ASEAN converge for their biannual summit that started on Saturday.
It has been hoped that by the end of this year, the long-envisaged ASEAN Community will no longer be just a slogan, but a reality the region will need to embrace.
The summit is expected to witness the adoption of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Community and the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together, paving the way for the regional grouping's future growth and prosperity.
Earlier, it was reported that 90 percent of groundwork for the ASEAN Community has been laid and it seems that a rough framework could be set up but details are yet to be announced, observers cautioned.
The realization of the ASEAN Community as outlined in the "Roadmap for an ASEAN Community 2009-2015" where all 10 members aim to achieve uniformity of rules and seamless physical, infrastructural and people-to-people connectivity should be viewed as a milestone rather than a destination in creating a truly integrated region, they noted.
Discussions on efforts to develop a vision to 2025 for further integration and growth of the ASEAN Community will also be on the agenda of the leaders' summit.
Founded in 1967, ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Taken together, it has developed into the world's 7th largest economy.
The establishment of the ASEAN Community is believed to be crucial not only to cultivating tangible changes to the livelihood and well-being of its 633 million people but also to maintaining the vitality and competitiveness of Southeast Asia.
Under the ambitious plan covering three pillars - the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), Political-Security Community and Socio-Cultural Community, economic integration has been a key focus over the years.
Mainly defined by such factors as a single market and production base, a competitive economic region, equitable economic development and integration with the world economy, AEC has been the most productive in terms of free trade of goods with significant tariff reductions among ASEAN members.
However, non-tariff barriers, fierce competition in the single market and huge development gaps among ASEAN members pose great challenges in the integration process, observers said.
Ahead of the summit on Thursday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak revealed that the implementation rate of AEC measures has reached 92.7 percent with 469 measures carried out, 37 still pending and some to be addressed on a priority basis early next year.
"ASEAN might have missed or may miss some deadlines, but in general, we are moving strongly ahead," the prime minister said.
Also due for completion by the end of 2015 are talks on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's largest free trade agreement grouping ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Negotiations for the RCEP, launched in November 2012, have had 10 rounds so far with the latest round being conducted in mid-October in South Korea's southern port city of Busan.
The conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement in early October could give impetus for the RCEP, the Asia-wide equivalent, to finally gain some traction, trade analysts said.
And they warned that RCEP negotiations remain a daunting task due to different development levels and varied stances among participating nations.
"The level of economic development in the region is so different, making immediate integration highly impractical, there must be some complicated waivers here and there to make things work," Shen said.
The real test for the ASEAN Community, therefore, will lie in the years ahead.