Phnom Penh:  A rocket launch planned by North Korea and long-broiling disputes over the South China Sea are expected to dominate Southeast Asia's annual diplomatic summit this week, while elections in long-repressed Myanmar have helped turn a perennial troublemaker into a bright spot.

Cambodia is hosting the two-day summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations starting on Tuesday. The stated focus is on turning the 10 disparate nations and their combined population of 600 million into a European Union-like community by 2015, but many other issues will be discussed on the sidelines.

North Korea is not a member of the group, but ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said he expected some leaders to voice alarm over Pyongyang's plan to fire a long-range rocket this month.

"I think some concern will be expressed because instability anywhere in Asia and anywhere in the world will have negative implications on all of us," he said.

Territorial conflicts in the resource-rich South China Sea will almost certainly be raised, Surin said.

China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all make various claims on the sea, which China claims in its entirety. The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have been at odds with Beijing over the region in recent months, with diplomatic clashes erupting over oil and gas exploration and fishing rights.

Philippine officials have said the issue is at the top of concerns they will ventilate at the summit.

ASEAN, founded in 1967 as a bulwark against communism in the Cold War era, has often been caught in the crosscurrents of major conflicts. Currently, the bloc is walking a tightrope between a rising China and an America that's reasserting its status as an Asia-Pacific power.

(Agencies)