Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has indicated his support for Australia to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ahead of a special summit in Sydney.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he told Fairfax Media in an interview published on Friday.
The president said it would be better for “stability, economic stability, and also political stability. Sure, it will be better” for the region.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded to the interview by saying he looked “forward to discussing that with Mr Widodo if he raises it with me”.
Mr Turnbull will on Friday open a special leaders’ summit in Sydney at a business forum attended by the 10 ASEAN member country leaders.
“The summit marks a coming of age of Australia’s relationship with Southeast Asia,” he said on Thursday.
As a bloc the 10 ASEAN member countries make up Australia’s third-largest trading partner, worth almost $100 billion in 2016/17.
Australia is not a formal member of ASEAN but maintains a role as a strategic partner and takes part in the biennial leaders’ summit first instituted in 2016.
Mr Turnbull hopes this year’s meeting will help to unlock new opportunities for trade and investment that will support jobs in Australia and across the region.
Mr Turnbull is particularly keen to see Australian small businesses get a piece of the action amid a rapidly expanding middle class in the region.
By 2030, there will be an estimated 161 million middle-class households. The region is expected to grow by at least 5.4 per cent for the next decade, significantly higher than the global average.
Mr Turnbull will hold bilateral talks with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday after the pair dined together on Thursday night.
Mr Widodo arrives in Sydney on Friday and is expected to have dinner with Mr Turnbull at his Sydney harbourside home on Friday evening.
The two countries hope to sign a free trade deal on the sidelines of the summit after failing to meet a deadline late last year, although negotiations are ongoing.
AAP understands 95 per cent of the deal has been finalised.
Cambodians to protest Hun Sen
It comes as hundreds of Cambodian expats prepare to rally in Sydney on Friday afternoon to protest against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Australia.
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.
The opposition party had been poised to strongly challenge Mr Hun Sen’s 33-year rule at the July election.
Ahead of his visit the Khmer prime minister had threatened to beat up any protesters who burnt effigies of him in Sydney.
Protest organisers say they’ve accepted that as a challenge and aren’t afraid.
Bou Rochana, whose husband Kem Ley was murdered in a suspected political assassination, will address the protest at Hyde Park.
She and her five children were granted refugee status and moved to Melbourne last month after 15 months in limbo in Thailand.
Mr Ley was gunned down in 2016 after he had made comments critical of the prime minister’s business dealings.
Former foreign minister Gareth Evans, who helped bring peace to war-torn Cambodia in the early 1990s, last week said the “manifestly indefensible” refugee resettlement deal had compromised Australia’s response to the Cambodian situation.
Professor Evans said Mr Turnbull needed to be frank when he sits down for a bilateral meeting with Cambodian prime minister.
“The Cambodian government has been getting away with murder,” Professor Evans said.
“It’s time for Cambodia’s political leaders to be named, shamed, investigated and sanctioned by the international community – that remains my opinion today.”