BANGKOK - The world is increasingly focusing on Southeast Asia as a possible source of economic recovery, Thailand's finance minister said ahead of a key meeting of his regional counterparts.
Korn Chatikavanij said the gathering of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) finance ministers in the Thai resort island of Phuket on Sunday was "very timely" because of the global financial crisis.
"ASEAN is increasingly the focus of the rest of the world," Korn told AFP ahead of the meeting, which precedes a full ASEAN summit in Thailand from February 27 to March 1.
"Asia as a whole is seen as the world's best chance of driving economic recovery and ASEAN is an important component of Asia as a whole," he said in the interview late Wednesday.
The South Korean finance minister and possibly his Chinese counterpart will also attend the meeting, while new Japanese finance Kaoru Yosano is sending one of his deputies.
The ASEAN finance ministers meeting is expected to look at how the region is going to cope with the global economic crisis.
Topping the agenda is expected to be discussions on the progress of a proposal to set up a multi-billion dollar fund to help countries in the region cope with financial crises.
Last week Korn said Thailand plans to propose that ASEAN should extend the eventual fund to 120 billion dollars, up from the initially agreed figure of 80 billion dollars.
Thailand currently holds the rotating chair of ASEAN, which groups it with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Korn meanwhile appealed for further economic integration within ASEAN and throughout Asia to help the region ride out the growing economic turmoil.
"Integration is important especially now that the Western world cannot be relied upon as a source of demand," he told AFP.
"If we can move towards the level of cooperation seen in Europe, I think at the right time that would be beneficial."