HANOI - LEADERS from 18 countries are converging in the spruced-up Vietnamese capital for the 17th Asean Summit and related meetings. They include Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who arrived last night.

Top of the agenda for Asean's leaders over the next three days are two items that ultimately aim to undergird the 10-member grouping's relevance within the larger Asian region.

One, the adoption of a connectivity masterplan spelling out concrete steps for integrating Asean so that it has more muscle as an entity.

Two, the enlargement of the East Asia Summit (EAS) to add the United States and Russia. This regional forum, which has Asean at its centre, now includes China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The need to ensure that Asean's voice remains heard in the evolving global landscape was an issue that Asean's foreign ministers discussed yesterday afternoon.

Foreign Minister George Yeo told the Singapore media: 'The regional focus is very important. We do not want the agenda to be taken out of our hands. And it is, to a certain extent, a triumph of Asean diplomacy that all the major powers now see Asean playing a central role, and concede the centrality of Asean in these regional arrangements.

Raising Asean profile