Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday launches into an intensive round of international diplomacy that will absorb a good deal of time and attention during a run up to Christmas already crowded with domestic issues.
Between now and the end of the year – the “summit season” – Turnbull has three trips. The first includes bilateral visits to Indonesia and Germany and three summits; the second takes in the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta and the Paris climate conference; and the third will be a visit to Japan.
The Japan trip, in December, is one that Tony Abbott planned to make, and fulfils a commitment for annual alternating leaders’ visits between the two countries under the special strategic partnership that was announced when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to Australia last year.
Turnbull’s Thursday “working visit” to Jakarta is fleeting. But given Indonesia is one of Australia’s most important but difficult relationships, new prime ministers are always anxious to get there soon after taking office.
Relations were very rocky in Abbott’s time, most recently with tensions over the execution earlier this year of two of the Bali Nine, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. There has been no face-to-face leaders’ meeting since then. Turnbull will meet President Joko Widodo for a lunch, with the two jointly facing the media after the talks. At this stage they are not expected to take questions.
Turnbull has said the Indonesia visit will have a “particular focus on trade and economic ties, and common regional challenges”. But watchers of the relationship will home in on the dynamic between Turnbull and Widodo.
Turnbull will then fly to Berlin, where he meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and has discussions with investors in Australia.
The report of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group will be released. The group, co-chaired by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, was charged with working to “identify opportunities for increased trade and investment, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and other regions of the world, cultural and social links and scientific collaboration”. The group was set up by Abbott and Merkel. Lucy Turnbull is a member.
Turnbull is expected to sign an Australian agreement with Germany that includes, among other things, a student exchange measure.
Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos told Sky the German discussions would canvass immigration and asylum seeker issues.
The summits start with the G20 in Turkey on November 15-16. Apart from economic growth and taxation, Syria will be one of the big issues discussed among the leaders. The ambitious goal from the Brisbane G20, for an extra 2% growth by 2018 above the forecast, has been hit by an increasingly poor economic outlook and is now considered unattainable.
The next summit is the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Manila, where the theme is “Building inclusive economies, building a better world”. APEC concentrates on detailed economic and trade issues.
This will be followed by the East Asia summit which has a broad remit of strategic, political and economic discussions. Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, leaders will discuss, among other issues, countering violent extremism.
Climate change is expected to be one topic for conversation at the various summits, coming as they do just before the Paris conference.
On the sidelines of the summits, Turnbull is set to have bilateral meetings with the new Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and US President Barack Obama as well as a range of other leaders. For Turnbull, as for any new leader, the summits will be as important for the opportunity they present for side meetings as for what happens in the conference rooms themselves.
In a statement earlier this month on his trip, Turnbull said he looked forward to discussing with world leaders “how we can work together to achieve our shared vision for a prosperous, open, innovative and energetic region and world”.
Unusually for a prime minister on such a long first major trip – he has already been to New Zealand – Turnbull at this stage is not scheduled to deliver any major speeches, although he will make pre-planned interventions at the summits.