Manila, April 28 (IANS) Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) met here on Friday to begin a trade and economic integration summit.
The summit precedes the Saturday meeting between the heads of state and governments of Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, Efe news reported.
Economy and trade are among the key discussions as Asean nations are exploring new forms of economic integration following Washington's withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January.
The US withdrawal from TPP has opened ways for Asean to settle a free trade agreement proposal - Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - with other six countries: China, Australia, South Korea, India, Japan and New Zealand.
The 10-member Asean organisation, comprising about 625 million inhabitants, aims to raise its combined GDP to $4.7 trillion by 2020 and become the world's fourth largest economy in 15 years.
During the summit, the dialogue participants will address the territorial disputes in the South China Sea where several Asean members have exchanged spats with China.
The issue has been addressed in Asean summits on various occasions and the group does not plan to adopt a belligerent position towards China.
According to a final draft of its declaration, Asean would simply seek peaceful solutions and support self-control policies.
Meanwhile, a group of about 100 people gathered around the Philippine International Convention Centre, the summit venue, to protest "against allowing world powers to plunder and militarise Southeast Asia", according to the summit's organisers.
About 2,000 delegates have taken part in the Manila summit since it started on Wednesday.
This meeting is one of the two Asean summits held annually. The second meeting will take place in November, with Asean's main partners, including China, US, India, South Korea, Japan and Australia, participating.