Southeast Asian countries are moving forward with a plan to transform Japan's multibillion-dollar aid initiatives into a permanent fund for crisis-hit regional economies. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said yesterday in Manila that Japanese officials had agreed to endorse a proposal to create a line of credit of about US$45 billion that could be drawn on if crisis-like conditions recurred. Philippine Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu said: 'We feel very strongly that one way of preventing a similar event from happening again is the feeling of availability of that kind of assistance.' But he said Asean was not championing the creation of an Asian Monetary Fund to rival the International Monetary Fund as mooted by Malaysia and Japan when regional financial troubles were at their height. That idea was shot down after loud protests from the United States and the IMF. The proposed East Asian fund would distribute assistance along similar lines to the existing Japanese programmes, Mr Espiritu said. 'It's not purely a standby drawing rights arrangement. Its availability will be similar to how it's used with the five countries that have benefited from the existing fund,' he said. The pool was not intended for use against currency attacks, Mr Espiritu said. The proposal is expected to be discussed in detail when Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi meets Asean leaders in Manila this weekend. The US$30 billion Miyazawa Fund, named after Japanese Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, has been distributed in South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. It has been used in a variety of ways, including helping with financial restructuring and co-financing. The US$15 billion Obuchi Initiative, meanwhile, gives help on merit for project financing. Mr Espiritu said: 'We are not just referring to fund assistance, but technical support and enhancement of human resource development as well, because Japan is strong in training.' Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said Japan would support research at universities as well as training. Asked whether other wealthier East Asian countries would be expected to add to the fund, Mr Espiritu said: 'As of now it is primarily Japan.' Other initiatives discussed yesterday included the creation of an East Asian business council, while ministers also agreed to the formation of a S$100,000 (about HK$465,010) seed fund to kick-start a joint private sector and government task force to develop electronic commerce.