Australia to host ASEAN leaders in Melbourne next March

ASEAN Summit in Jakarta

By Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will host leaders from Southeast Asia's ASEAN bloc in Melbourne next March for a special summit to commemorate 50 years of relations, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday as he announced a new investment strategy for the region.

Albanese told reporters in Jakarta he had written to all the bloc's leaders inviting them to the "significant event", set to run from 4 March to 6 March. The summit would also be a chance for diplomatic bilateral meetings and business forums, he added.

Albanese has travelled to Jakarta for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit at a time when Australia is strengthening relations across Asia in a bid to build economic and diplomatic alternatives to China. ASEAN was vital to Australia's future, Albanese said in a speech to the summit.

"This is where Australia's economic destiny lies, and this is where our shared prosperity can be built," he said.

"This is where, working together, the peace, stability and security of this region – and the Indo-Pacific – can be assured."

The ASEAN summit gathers with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and leaders of various partner countries including Japan, South Korea and India at a time when the bloc's members are wary of being dragged into great power disputes.

Albanese also used his speech to unveil a new economic strategy for the region, and announced an initial A$95.4 million ($60.89 million) package to fund investment deal teams, internships for young professionals and support for Australian companies looking to enter the region.

The strategy comes with 75 recommendations including using government agencies to help underwrite infrastructure investment in the region. Albanese said his government would work through the recommendations in an "orderly fashion".

($1 = 1.5667 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Christopher Cushing)