Morrison attempts to mend diplomatic rifts

Scott Morrison has met with Joko Widodo in a bid to rescue a free trade agreement.
Scott Morrison has met with Joko Widodo in a bid to rescue a free trade agreement.

Scott Morrison has committed to making a decision before Christmas on the location of Australia's embassy in Israel, as he tries to mend strained relations with Indonesia.

Mr Morrison attempted to soothe diplomatic tensions and revive a stalled Australia-Indonesia trade pact when he met with Joko Widodo in Singapore on Wednesday.

It was their first face-to-face encounter since Mr Morrison announced he was considering moving Australia's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim nation and a key Palestine supporter - is furious at the potential relocation.

The leaders were due to sign the two-way trade deal this week, but finalising the agreement has been put on hold until the embassy issue is resolved.

The mood at the meeting on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit appeared frosty at first but tensions eventually thawed.

At a press conference after the meeting, Mr Morrison said he intended to conduct the review "over the next little while" but provided very few details.

Despite Indonesian ministers confirming the embassy issue and trade deal were inextricably linked, the prime minister said they were raised separately in the meeting.

"The two issues were not linked in any way shape or form in our discussions," he said.

Australia and Indonesia have not set a date to ink the agreement.

The prime minister also met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang , the first high-level meeting of its kind in more than a year.

Australia-China relations have been heavily strained over the past 12 months, due largely to Australia's foreign interference laws and concerns about Huawei technology.

Mr Morrison dipped into Mandarin phrase book as he attempted to break the diplomatic ice, borrowing key words learned during his past life at Tourism Australia.

"You need to be able to say ni hao if you're in the tourism industry in Australia, and xie xie," he said at the meeting.

Premier Li said the meeting market a turning point after "ups and downs" in the Australia-China relationship.

"I hope that our meeting today can ensure the steady progress of our relations, which would be beneficial to both countries and the rest of our region," he said.

Later, Mr Morrison stirred a bitter sugar dispute with India during his first meeting with Narendra Modi.

Australia is threatening to take international trade action against India unless it cuts heavy subsidies paid to cane farmers, creating a sugar glut.

The prime minister made it clear Australia was unhappy with India's policies and would take all available steps to deal with the dispute.

Mr Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bonded over Bunnings sausage sizzles during their first encounter.

But the pair didn't find time during their half-hour chat to talk about sick asylum seeker children on Nauru.

Ms Ardern also used the meeting to restate concerns about Australia's policy of deporting New Zealanders who have committed serious crimes.

She has consistently argued Australia should deport only those with genuine links to New Zealand.

Mr Morrison will spend Thursday in Singapore before flying to Darwin to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Australian Associated Press