Leaders, delegates, journalists, thousands of them descended in Phnom Penh and congregated at the Peace Palace over the past week. Under the scrutiny of the local, regional and global media, leaders from ASEAN Member States – supported by their Ministers and Senior Officials, met their counterparts from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and many other powers in the Cambodian capital.

Top on the agenda is the uncertain global economic outlook, and what counter-measures to stay ahead.

The leaders launched negotiations which could see the formation of the world’s biggest regional free trade body. Known as the ASEAN Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the initiative connects ASEAN’s free trade agreements with Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand into a major deal. It will boasts half the world’s consumers, and a rapidly growing middle-class citizens.

At the Plenary Session on the first day of the Summit, ASEAN leaders also affirmed their commitment to see the ASEAN Community take shape by 31 December, 2015. They also reiterate the need to ensure that progress stay on track.

“We are pleased that the implementation rate of AEC Blueprint has increased to 74.5 percent. Nonetheless, we recognize the challenges we all face domestically in implementing the ASEAN Economic Community. We agree to intensify our efforts in those areas under the AEC in order to achieve AEC goals by 2015. We welcome the prioritization of AEC measures undertaken by the AEC Council, as well as the recommendations of the AEC Blueprint Mid-term Review, on taking forward the timely, full and consistent realization of our AEC commitments,” said the Chair statement.

In the political arena, the highlights include the launch of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. The Summit also agree to locate the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre in Cambodia.

Thanking his counterparts for their support, Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen said this is a timely and necessary move, as the majority of ASEAN Member States suffer from the menace of land mines.

The Phnom Penh meetings also saw the acceptance of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

“The adoption of the AHRD marks a new milestone for ASEAN in the implementation of the ASEAN Charter, as well as highlights the strong commitment of ASEAN in the promotion and protection of human rights in the region, as part of the process towards ASEAN Community by 2015,” said the statement.

On the overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, the leaders say: “We agreed to work together to enhance favourable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among the countries concerned, in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

“We agreed to work together to enhance favourable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among the countries concerned,” said the statement.

Cambodia also handed over the chair to Brunei Darusallam, who will host the meetings in 2013.

Please click here for the full text of the Chair’s Statement