SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday his trip to Indonesia just over two weeks after he was elected showed the importance his new government places on ties between the two countries as it works to focus more on Southeast Asia.
Albanese was due to leave on Sunday for Indonesia, and is expected to visit the capital Jakarta, where he will hold talks with President Joko Widodo, as well as Makassar, in South Sulawesi. The Australian delegation will also include Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Trade Minister Don Farrell.
“This early visit with a very high-level delegation from Australia indicates to our Indonesian friends the importance we place on that relationship,” Albanese told reporters in Perth.
The trip comes as Australia’s new Labor government, which ended almost a decade of conservative rule in a May 21 election, puts greater focus on relations with Southeast Asia and climate change, an issue crucial to its Pacific neighbours, as it navigates ties with a more assertive China.
The Indonesia visit will mark Albanese’s second overseas trip since becoming prime minister after he attended a meeting of leaders of the Quad group of countries in Tokyo in late May.
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“My government is determined to have better relations across the Indo-Pacific region, that is why you have seen us, very early on, have two visits from Foreign Minister Wong into the Pacific,” Albanese told reporters.
Wong and her Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, recently made competing tours of Pacific island nations amid escalating tensions between Australia and China over influence in the region, and as China sought a regional security deal.
Wong, born in Malaysia, is Australia’s first overseas-born foreign minister and she has served in Labor administrations that held closer ties with Southeast Asian neighbours such as Indonesia.
(Reporting by Samuel McKeith; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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