Japan's Suga to host Australian PM in first visit by foreign leader

The trip is Mr Scott Morrison's first overseas tour since the coronavirus pandemic began. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will travel to Tokyo next week to meet his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga against the backdrop of increasing tensions with China.

Mr Morrison said Thursday (Nov 12) he was "honoured" to be the first foreign leader to pay an official visit to Japan since Mr Suga took office in September.

"Our relationship with Japan over the past few years has really gone from strength to strength," he told reporters in Canberra.

"They are an important partner on so many issues within our region," he said, naming trade, security and defence as key to the relationship.

Japanese media reported the two nations planned to sign a defence pact that would act as a bulwark against China's growing military power in the region.

The summit comes amid deteriorating relations between Canberra and Beijing, with China imposing import bans on a range of Australian goods in recent months.

Australia appears to be seeking to bolster trade with other nations after angering its largest trading partner by calling for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19, which surfaced in central China late last year.

Mr Morrison said he would also travel to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, to meet Prime Minister James Marape for talks on Australia's support for the Pacific nation during the Covid-19 crisis.

"In particular how we can assist them during our vaccine programme and the many other projects we have in place with them to address their challenges, in dealing with not only the Covid-19 pandemic, but of course the economic recession that flows from that," he said.

The trip is Mr Morrison's first overseas tour since the coronavirus pandemic began.

He said he would go into quarantine for 14 days on his return to Australia, joining Parliament by video link from isolation - a first for an Australian leader.

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