Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday sharply attacked the United States for making "negative statements" on the formation of the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC).

"I am rather surprised that a big power like the US had deemed it fit to take on a small country like Malaysia and threaten other regional countries to withhold support from an Asian economic concept propounded by an Asian nation," Mahathir said at a press conference in Singapore.

He spoke after a series of meetings with Asian heads of state before the summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which opens today in Singapore.

The EAEC, which is Mahathir's brainchild, plans to group the six ASEAN nations with Japan, China, India, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Mahathir said that when EAEC was announced, "America said it was its responsibility to see that no third trading bloc emerged in the world."

The agenda of Monday's meeting is to focus on laying the conerstone for a free market in ASEAN's economically expanding region of 300 million people.

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