Morrison bracing for 'frank' summit talks

Scott Morrison will attend the East Asia Summit in Singapore and APEC in Papua New Guinea this week.
Scott Morrison will attend the East Asia Summit in Singapore and APEC in Papua New Guinea this week.

Scott Morrison is bracing for difficult discussions with key allies as he takes to the world stage for the first time, just weeks after floating the idea of moving an embassy to Jerusalem.

But Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is confident the angry reaction from regional neighbours will not be enough to derail a major free trade deal with Indonesia.

The prime minister must also navigate rising tensions between the US and China during international summits in Singapore and Papua New Guinea this week.

Mr Morrison will join 21 world leaders for the East Asia Summit in Singapore, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canada's Justin Trudeau.

US Vice President Mike Pence and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will also attend the summit.

Mr Morrison is expected to hold one-on-one meetings with at least six key regional allies as Australia pushes its case in trade and security talks.

"Frank dialogue and mutual respect and co-operation underpin the East Asia Summit and I look forward to the opportunities it presents," he said on Tuesday.

Mr Morrison will meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo, but the pair will not yet ink a two-way trade deal.

Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim nation - is furious about the potential move of Australia's embassy in Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The trade pact is believed to be on hold until the issue is sorted out.

However, Senator Birmingham is confident the deal will be finalised by early next year.

"We want to see it signed, Indonesia wants to see it signed, I'm confident we will see it signed before then," he told reporters in Singapore.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has urged the prime minister to abandon the embassy idea, lamenting the fact it upset many of Australia's regional neighbours.

Mr Shorten dismissed the proposal as a failed "advertising gimmick" designed to snag a few votes in the recent Wentworth by-election.

"If Mr Morrison doesn't intend to move the embassy he should just say so. Our lives are too short to be debating a thought bubble," he told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Morrison aims to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Singapore and President Xi Jinping at the APEC Summit in Port Moresby later this week.

An escalating trade war between the US and China is expected to loom large over both forums.

Mr Morrison is attempting to forge closer ties with the competing world powers, given China is Australia's largest trading partner and the US its closest defence ally.

He has indicated Australia is willing to co-fund one-off projects as part of China's global Belt and Road Initiative.

And yet, Australia is also partnering with the US and Japan in a rival infrastructure agreement.

The prime minister has indicated he will not push Beijing over human rights issues or disputed claims over islands in the South China Sea during this week's talks.

Mr Morrison will also take part in talks on a 16-country free trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The unprecedented trade pact includes the 10 ASEAN states as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

If the deal comes to fruition, it will include half the world's population and one-third of its GDP.

Negotiations on the deal are not expected to conclude until later next year.

Australian Associated Press