• Malcolm Turnbull arrives in Vietnam ahead of the 25th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit APEC. (AAP)
It's Summit Season in Asia with many of the world's most powerful leaders gathering in Vietnam and the Philippines. SBS Chief Political Correspondent Daniela Ritorto, who is travelling with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, takes a look at what we can expect.
Daniela Ritorto, Presented by
Justin Sungil Park

10 Nov 2017 - 10:43 AM  UPDATED 10 Nov 2017 - 5:28 PM

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has had nothing but headaches on the home front recently and so he may indeed breathe a sigh of relief jetting out of Australia for a week. But sharing the international stage with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders in Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Philippines could be a welcome reprieve or present more pitfalls.

Mr Turnbull flies straight into the Vietnamese coastal city of Da Nang, where he'll link up with Mr Trump, who will be on stop four of his five-state Asia tour, having already visited Japan, South Korea and China. The pair will join 19 other leaders, including Russia's Vladimir Putin and Canada's Justin Trudeau, at the annual APEC summit (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation).

Both men will meet up again in the Philippines for ASEAN summit (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations)  and its associated East Asia Summit, where the talks shift to regional security. 

In between, Mr Turnbull will make an overnight dash to Hong Kong.

As always, Australia sets lots of goals for these international talks - not all are met - but Mr Turnbull has a long to-do list. You'll hear a lot of ‘diplo-speak’ over the next week about formal dialogues, gala dinners, family photos and bilaterals (two-country meetings).

There will also be the regular informal pull-asides which diplomatic sources say are often much more useful as it means two leaders get to have a frank chat one-on-one, minus a table full of advisors.

The names are still very much TBC, but Mr Turnbull is expected to have as many sit downs or pull-asides as possible, including with Mr Trump, China's increasingly-dominant President Xi Jinping, and the leaders of the host nations.

First stop: Vietnam

The two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit focuses mostly on freeing up international trade - a touchy subject since Mr Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership when he was elected this time last year.

In fact, it was one of his first acts of office, after campaigning that the 12-country Pacific-ring free trade deal was a “disaster” for blue-collar American workers.

Given the US was the most powerful economy in the group, that should have spelt the deal's death-knell, but the 11 other countries have been quietly trying to make it work, with or without the US.

Japan and Australia are key to this revival and New Zealand's newly-elected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been working on some last-minute amendments to the agreement, as her Labour government attempts to implement a ban on foreign property investors (except those from Australia). Ms Ardern said she "refuse[d] to accept" the housing ban and the TPP were mutually exclusive. 

Back home, Treasurer Scott Morrison says governments need to keep making the case for the benefits of free trade, despite growing voter scepticism, citing a recent Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade report showing Australian households are $8000 a year better off because of it.

There's a 'rival' free trade agreement in the making too, the China-led RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) which excludes the US, just like the TPP excludes China.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker is likely to attend and Mr Turnbull will use that as an opportunity to keep negotiating the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement, and the deal in the works with last year's host, Peru.

Hong Kong in a day

Here are two fun facts: Based on the number of passport applications received, Hong Kong is home to the second-largest Australian community abroad, after the UK. And the last Australian prime minister to make an official visit to Hong Kong was Bob Hawke in 1984. Given the first fact, the second is almost bizarre, but Mr Turnbull will fix that with a dash to the territory to meet its new Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the first woman elected to the role.

Some of their conversations may not be as fun; Australia wants to press Hong Kong about money laundering and curbing North Korea's access to international financial markets. A recent UN Panel of Experts on North Korea exposed how Pyonyang sets up so-called shell companies in Hong Kong to evade UN sanctions. 

But there are plenty of positives in Hong Kong for the PM too, with the territory being the fifth largest source of foreign direct investment and eighth largest destination for Australian exports. He'll meet innovators and investors and there's a proposed Free Trade Agreement to make progress on too.

Thriller in Manila 

Controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte plays host to the ASEAN and East Asia Summits, by which time he is expected to have finally met his equally-controversial US counterpart. Originally Mr Trump wasn't planning to hang around for the full two days but says he was talked into attending the EAS by fellow Asian leaders.

This is the key regional security forum attended by the 10 members of ASEAN along with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the US and Russia.

The North Korean nuclear threat is top of the agenda. Speaking to the South Korean parliament on Wednesday, Mr Trump warned North Korea "do not underestimate us and do not try us" as he vowed that the US would defend itself and its allies against Pyongyang's nuclear threat.

The US has previously suggested it could go impose trade sanctions on countries that continue to trade with North Korea - most notably, China. 

Australia very much supports the UN sanctions on North Korean exports, but a trade war between the two superpowers, which happen to be Australia's two biggest trade partners, not so much.

North Korea might be the region's biggest headache, but it's not the only one.

There are still tensions between Japan, China, and the host nation over the South China Sea. The threat from Islamist fighters returning from the Middle East to Asia looms large. The Philippines city of Marawi has been a flashpoint, the military there recently declared victory over an ISIS-inspired insurgency. Australia has sent troops to help train local forces. Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to attend, and face international condemnation of her country's handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis.

There'll be a final statement from the summit and for its part, Australia wants it to reflect regional commitments to counter money laundering and terror financing.

Of course, this worthy agenda could be derailed by all manner of unpredictable events, think Mr Trump's gaffe-riddled showing at the G20 earlier this year, and/or the rolling shambles that is the dual citizenship saga following Mr Turnbull to Asia, as it did to Israel last week.

Even if it all goes perfectly to plan, Mr Turnbull won’t be able to rest, he will touch down back in Australia on November 15, just three hours before the nation discovers if it's for or against legalising same-sex marriage.