Katharine Murphy, Perth – Anthony Albanese had what officials characterised as a "warm and positive" conversation with the Timor-Leste prime minister, Taur Matan Ruak, en route to Jakarta on Sunday.
Ruak congratulated Albanese on his recent election victory, and the Australian prime minister pledged closer cooperation on the climate transition and development support for Timor-Leste.
The discussion took place on the flight to Indonesia for Albanese's first official visit to that country, after the Timorese became the latest regional neighbours to sign agreements with China.
Earlier on Sunday, before flying to Jakarta, Albanese had told reporters in Perth he had not yet had the opportunity for a "one on one discussion" with the Timorese government, but that the president was a friend and former constituent so he was "confident that we can have good relations going forward".
Asked what message he would be taking to the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, about China's actions in the region, Albanese said initial discussions had been "cordial and positive" and the Indonesian government had gone out of its way to host a significant delegation from the new Australian government over the coming days.
Albanese will hold his first face-to-face meeting with Widodo on Monday in Jakarta. The prime minister will also visit Makassar on the southern tip of Sulawesi, a region Widodo wants to develop, and where Australia has opened its newest Indonesian diplomatic presence.
Albanese said his government wanted to deepen diplomatic ties across the Indo-Pacific and had moved quickly after being sworn in to deploy to Pacific countries.
He will be accompanied on the Indonesian visit by the foreign minister, Penny Wong, the trade minister, Don Farrell, the industry minister, Ed Husic, and Australian business leaders including senior executives from Fortescue, Bluescope, Sun Cable, Telstra, Thales Australia and Wesfarmers.
Albanese said given the growing strategic competition in the region, "I certainly seek peaceful relations with all of our neighbours, recognising the challenges which are there".
The prime minister said he would also have talks with the secretary general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), Lim Jock Hoi, "and those discussions reflect the priority that we have on south-east Asia".
"We announced during the election campaign additional aid for south-east Asia and we also announced a particular envoy and other measures to assist our relations," Albanese said.
"My government is determined to have better relations across the Indo-Pacific region – that's why you've seen us, very early on, have two visits from foreign minister Wong to the Pacific," he said.
"That's why I not only attended the Quad leaders meeting on the day after we were sworn in... [it's why there] is this early visit with a high-level delegation from Australia that indicates to our Indonesian friends the importance that we place on that relationship."
Albanese said it was important that Widodo would be hosting the next meeting of the G20.
It has been traditional for Australian prime ministers since the Keating era to make Jakarta their first foreign visit. Recently, Albanese observed Indonesia would be the next regional superpower.
The decision by the Morrison government to enter into the Aukus submarine partnership with the US and the UK caused diplomatic ripples in the region. Indonesia expressed concerns about the impact of the pact on regional security and nuclear non-proliferation commitments.
Labor supports the Aukus deal, but Albanese's first visit will give the two leaders an opportunity for a diplomatic reset. The Labor leader met Widodo in opposition, during his last visit to Canberra in 2020.