• Reuters, Jiji

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday he would travel to Japan next week, a trip that would make him the first world leader to meet in person with Yoshihide Suga since he became prime minister.

Morrison said bilateral talks would focus on boosting trade and suppressing the spread of COVID-19.

"I am honored to be first foreign leader to visit Japan to meet the new prime minister, following his appointment," Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Thursday that Morrison will make a two-day visit to Japan from Tuesday.

Suga will meet with Morrison on Tuesday to confirm bilateral security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, Kato said.

Tokyo and Canberra are also expected to make progress in negotiations on a proposed pact on the legal statuses of Self-Defense Forces and Australian military personnel during their visits to each other's country.

"Japan and Australia are special strategic partners that share fundamental values and strategic interests," Kato told a news conference. "Political, security and economic cooperation will be among the main topics of discussion."

The two leaders are also scheduled to have dinner together on Tuesday evening.

Australia, which has been increasingly vigilant against China's vigorous maritime expansion in the Indo-Pacific region, apparently hopes to display its enhanced defense cooperation with Japan with the aim of containing Beijing's moves.

After leaving Japan, Morrison will travel to Papua New Guinea for talks with Prime Minister James Marape.

Morrison said he would quarantine for two weeks on his return to Australia and will participate in the country's Parliament via a video link.

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