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Diplomatic thriller in Manila for Turnbull

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November 12, 2017

ASIS director general Nick Warner "fist-bump" with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in August.

Avoiding a fist-bump selfie will be among Malcolm Turnbull's unofficial goals when he touches down in Manila.

The prime minister on Sunday afternoon flies into the Philippines capital for the East Asia leaders summit where he is expected to have some one-on-one time with strongman president Rodrigo Duterte.

A few months ago Australia's international spy agency chief Nick Warner was criticised after photos circulated of him engaging Mr Duterte's signature fist-bump move.

The Filippino firebrand's war on drugs has resulted in an estimated 12,000 extra-judicial deaths since July 2016. But Mr Duterte is not usually a fan of human rights lectures.

This will be a delicate diplomatic dance for Mr Turnbull - on one hand Australia has just been elected to the United Nation's human rights council and on the other, counter-terrorism cooperation is critical.

Since May, Australia has helped the Philippines crush an Islamic State insurgency in Marawi in the country's south.

Defence provided surveillance aircraft and Australian military personnel have started training their Filippino counterparts in urban warfare counter-terrorism.

Mr Turnbull is expected to use the East Asia summit to emphasise the need to crack down on money laundering financing terrorism.

Maximising pressure on North Korea to the curb nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing programs will be another key discussion point.

Those issues are likely to dominate Mr Turnbull's expected catch up with US President Donald Trump.

A refugee stand-off at the mothballed Manus Island detention centre is also likely to be on the agenda.

Having rejected a New Zealand offer to take 150 of the men, Mr Turnbull is under pressure to convince Mr Trump to speed up a US refugee resettlement process.

So far, only 54 of the agreed 1250 places have been filled.

Australian officials are likely to meet with counterparts from the US, Japan and India to discuss the possible revival of a four-country security forum, which is widely seen as an effort to counter China's growing influence.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd terminated Australia's involvement in 2008, worried about putting Beijing off side.

A senior Australian official said the likely meeting of bureaucrats from the four countries was very significant.

"I think you could take that as quite a significant step in this area," the official said.

Mr Turnbull will also be especially keen for talks with his southeast Asian counterparts, who he has invited to Sydney next March for a special Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Australia summit.

On the sidelines of the summit leaders from 16 countries negotiating a China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal will get together for the first time.

The Philippines is the last leg of Mr Turnbull's six-day overseas trip which included the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam and a stopover in Hong Kong.

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