ASEAN leaders will open a two-day meeting at a Malaysian resort hotel near Kuala Lumpur tomorrow amid the region's financial turmoil and an apparently bleak future in the short-term. The gloom cast over the proceedings by problems in member countries' usually buoyant economies and the forced shelving of regional plans deepened with the news that President Suharto of Indonesia would not be present due to illness. For Malaysia, the Second Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) Informal Summit has become an unwanted expense in a climate of enforced austerity. The gathering was expected to cap a triumphant year for Malaysia and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the country marked 40 years of independence and the 10th year of dynamic growth. However, with the Malaysian economy in distress, austerity measures adopted by the Government have generated a feeling among citizens that everyone is poorer. It is nevertheless determined to make the meeting a success. Much is being made of the fact that the nine ASEAN representatives will meet with their counterparts from Japan, China and South Korea. This will give de facto existence to the East Asian Economic Caucus, a Mahathir concept which the Japanese has resisted joining because of US pressure. The association groups Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The most specific matter before the low-key summit will be the establishment of an ASEAN Foundation to create wider education and manpower training opportunities for people in member countries.