Turnbull reluctant for Aust to join ASEAN

By , 25/04/2020 19:36

Malcolm Turnbull will host talks with Southeast Asian leaders including Vietnam PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Malcolm Turnbull has stressed the need for and its ASEAN neighbours to pursue open trade.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appears lukewarm to suggestions should join a club of Southeast Asian leaders.

Mr Turnbull is hosting leaders from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations for a special summit in Sydney on Friday and is keen to increase cooperation with the region.

Before arriving in , Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo indicated his support for joining ASEAN, saying it would be better for economic and political stability in the region.

Mr Turnbull said it was a matter for ASEAN.

“We are very warmed by his comments about ,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

The n Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been traditionally opposed to joining ASEAN over fears it would stymie the ability to criticise human rights records of members and cramp the country’s independence.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop kept the door ajar, nonetheless.

“Should there ever be a time where were given the honour of being offered membership in ASEAN, of course we would take such an offer very seriously,” she told reporters in Sydney.

Her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi said was an active partner for ASEAN.

“I think the partnership between and ASEAN will continue to grow and to be more strong in the future,” she told reporters.

Meanwhile, Mr Turnbull has raised concerns about Cambodia’s crumbling democracy and human rights record behind closed doors at a bilateral meeting with his Khmer counterpart.

Hundreds of Cambodian expats rallied in Sydney on Friday evening against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to .

Before his visit, the Khmer prime minister had threatened to beat up any protesters who burnt effigies of him in Sydney.

Protesters chanted for an end to his violent crackdown on political dissidents and urged Mr Turnbull not to “make deals with the devil”.

Cambodia is on a spiral towards authoritarianism following last year’s ban on the main opposition party, the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha and the forced closure of an English-language newspaper.

Mr Turnbull also had bilateral talks Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after the pair dined together on Thursday night.

Mr Turnbull assured his Singapore counterpart that land acquisition was on track in central Queensland for Singapore military’s to conduct training exercises.

Asked whether China was dividing ASEAN, Mr Lee responded that he didn’t see the world in black and white.

He said landlocked countries near China – alluding to Cambodia which is becoming a client state to Beijing – had different perspectives compared to island states.

Mr Widodo is expected to have dinner with Mr Turnbull at his harbourside home in the evening, ahead of their offical talks on Saturday.

The two countries had hope to sign a free trade deal on the sidelines of the summit after failing to meet a deadline late last year, but negotiations are ongoing and no time frame is set on finalising the deal.

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