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Singapore PM to visit Canberra

AAP logoAAP 5/10/2016 Lisa Martin

China will be the elephant in the room when Malcolm Turnbull has bilateral talks with Singapore's prime minister in Canberra next week.

Lee Hsien Loong and the Australian prime minister are expected to discuss issues such as violent extremism in the region, innovation, trade and greater defence engagement.

But the South China Sea maritime dispute and concerns about China's militarisation of artificial islands is expected to dominate the agenda.

Both Australia and Singapore are not directly involved in the dispute but have been vocal about the importance of a peaceful settlement and upholding international laws.

China, which claims virtually all of the South China Sea, inflamed regional tensions when it started building its own islands on disputed reefs, adding airstrips, radar and communications and defence systems.

In July, an international tribunal ruled against China's claims. Beijing has rejected the ruling and continued its activities.

The two leaders will be focused on increasing business ties.

This year Australia and Singapore concluded a comprehensive strategic partnership and diplomats have been reviewing the 2003 free trade deal to update the rules.

Singapore is Australia's fifth-largest trading partner - with $28.5 billion in two-way trade.

Last year, Australia and Singapore commemorated 50 years of diplomatic ties.

To mark the occasion Australia carried out some "koala diplomacy" - Paddle, Pellita, Idalia and Chan delighted more than 20,000 zoo-goers in Singapore.

Mr Lee was due to visit Australia in May but the visit was postponed because the government went into caretaker mode after the budget when Mr Turnbull called a double-dissolution election.

Mr Lee and Mr Turnbull last caught up for bilateral talks at an Association of South East Asian Nations summit in Laos in September.

Mr Turnbull will host Indonesian President Joko Widodo in November.

In the lead-up to that visit Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne will visit Indonesia for 2+2 meetings with their Indonesian counterparts later in October.

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