Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Saturday signed a legally binding counter-terrorism convention and a blueprint for a charter that would transform the bloc into a rules-based group.
The 12th ASEAN Summit was held under tight security in the Philippine resort province of Cebu, 585 km south of Manila, amid warnings that terrorist groups might attempt to disrupt the annual gathering.
Hundreds of Filipino activists marched in the downtown area of Cebu, denouncing the ASEAN agreement on counter-terrorism, but were prevented from pushing towards the Shangri-La Mactan Resort where the leaders were meeting.
"We want to advance the sense of community and our shared interest, to look after each other in terms of social justice, economic development and common security," Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said at the start of the meetings.
The 10-member group - made up of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar - also agreed to speed up by five years the target date for a free-trade zone to 2015.
The convention on terrorism aims to boost cooperation in preventing and investigating terrorist attacks in the region, which is plagued by Muslim extremists.
The North Korean nuclear crisis and the need to restart global trade talks were also on the leaders' agenda.
"At the time when the Doha Round is faltering, ASEAN wants to stand up and proclaim its support for keeping the doors of global trade open," Arroyo said. "And there is concern about nuclear proliferation and we have stood firm in our commitment on the issue of North Korea."
On Friday evening, the leaders adopted a blueprint for an ASEAN charter that they hope would be ready to present to the group in Singapore next year.
The blueprint, put together by veteran ASEAN diplomats and top government advisers, calls for the relaxation of ASEAN's long-standing non-interference policy on internal matters and would establish decision making by a majority vote in certain cases.
It also allows ASEAN to impose sanctions, and in extreme cases, expel members for non-compliance and serious breaches of agreements.
The charter is expected to revitalise the 40-year-old organisation, which has been facing criticism for failure to sanction erring members and quickly respond to key regional and global issues.
On Sunday, the ASEAN leaders are to be joined by counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea and India for separate meetings. Leaders from New Zealand and Australia are set to join them Monday for a broader East Asian Summit.