According to Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who spoke to the media ahead of the Dec 11-12 Asean Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur, the annual meeting would not be just another "talkshop".

Syed Hamid also said a "grassroots approach" would be adopted to create "a feeling of regional community".

It is indeed pertinent at this juncture in the 38-year history of Asean to respond to the rather widespread question of whether the regional grouping has become a "talkshop" for the political, bureaucratic and academic elites from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma - and in particular, the first five founding member-nations.

Founded in 1967 as a softer or more nuanced version of the Non-Aligned Movement in the Cold War, Asean had indeed made some progresses in functional areas of regional cooperation which culminated in the declaration of the Asean Free Trade Zone (Afta) in 1992 at the Fourth Asean Summit in Singapore.

However, after the end of the Cold War, Asean seems to have lost its coherence, purpose and direction. It began with the controversial 1997 enlargement of the original grouping to admit Indochinese countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma.

For those who favoured and advocated passionately for the inclusion, the entry of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma fulfilled the long-cherished dream of Asean's founders to have the regional grouping truly project its geographical identity. But those who opposed it, felt that the Indochinese states levels and models of economic development as well as political systems would erode the original coherence and direction of Asean.

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