3rd Australia-Malaysia Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
- Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women, Australia
- The Hon. Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, the Hon. Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women of Australia, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, co-chaired the 3rd Malaysia-Australia Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting via video conference on 4 December 2020.
Acknowledging the 65th anniversary of Malaysia-Australia’s diplomatic ties in 2020, the Ministers reviewed the progress under the 2015 Australia-Malaysia Joint Declaration of Strategic Partnership. They were pleased to note the growing cooperation in multiple sectors, including foreign policy, democratic institutions, trade and investment, defence and security, education and people-to-people links. Both Ministers further encouraged greater collaboration in new areas of high potential such as public health, science, technology and innovation (STI), the digital economy, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), agriculture, halal industry, and youth and sports.
The Ministers reiterated their commitment to further strengthening Malaysia-Australia ties and, in line with the commitment in 2019 to work towards elevating the Strategic Partnership, agreed to recommend a Plan of Action to the Leaders of both countries for their consideration.
The Ministers discussed the devastating impact of the COVID-19 and emphasised the need for a globally coordinated response. They agreed to cooperate on efforts to mitigate the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19, and to continue to work together to build a prosperous, open, and stable post-COVID-19 regional and global environment.
Both Ministers underlined the importance of sharing the benefits of scientific and medical research and development on mutually agreed terms, strengthening public healthcare systems, and improving readiness for future global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, and recognised the importance of the World Health Assembly’s independent evaluation into the COVID-19 response in this regard. The Ministers further underscored the importance for equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and safe, effective and affordable vaccines for COVID-19. Minister Hishammuddin welcomed Australia’s A$500 million regional vaccine access and health security initiative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including support for the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, and looked forward to bilateral cooperation under the initiative.
Both Ministers affirmed Australia and Malaysia’s commitment to ensuring the continued flow of trade and investment and supply chain connectivity, particularly for essential items. Open markets will be crucial for strong and resilient post-COVID-19 growth, job opportunities and prosperity.
With a view to reinvigorating the people-to-people linkages adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the education sector, Ministers underscored the importance of resuming cross-border travel between the two countries in a mutually beneficial manner in order to facilitate economic recovery and people-to-people links, and expressed their desire to make concrete progress in this area as health conditions permit. Currently, there are more than 20,000 Malaysian students studying in Australia. Since 2014, more than 3,000 Australians have studied in Malaysia under Australia’s New Colombo Plan.
Collaboration in Defence and Security
Both Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to deepening political-security cooperation, on traditional and non-traditional security issues, including countering terrorism, violent extremism and other transnational crimes, including combatting trafficking in persons and people-smuggling, promoting safe and regular migration and strengthening cybersecurity. To this end, both Ministers agreed to review the 2002 MoU on Countering International Terrorism to reflect contemporary cooperation. They also acknowledged work underway to establish a bilateral MoU on Cyber Security and Critical Technology as a framework to elevate cooperation in these important areas.
The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to maritime cooperation. They commended the existing excellent cooperation between respective agencies including through exchange of information, experience and expertise. Both Ministers further reaffirmed their support for a peaceful, stable and prosperous maritime domain.
The Ministers expressed serious concern about developments in the South China Sea, and accentuated the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, and stability in the region, as well as freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea. Both sides emphasized the need for all States to comply with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Ministers reiterated their grave concern over the plight of the Rohingya people forced to flee Rakhine State in Myanmar. The situation poses risks to the security and stability of the region. Both sides called for a comprehensive solution to address the root causes of the displacement, and urged cessation of the ongoing conflict in Rakhine State. They emphasized the need to create conditions conducive to a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya to Rakhine State as a crucial element to resolving the crisis. They also expressed commitment to working with Myanmar, Bangladesh and ASEAN, as well as exploring possible cooperation with other partners, including relevant international organisations, consistent with international obligations towards a long-term and durable solution.
Consolidating Regional Links
Both Ministers were pleased with the steady development of ASEAN-Australia relations over the past 46 years. They vowed to work together to further strengthen the ties, guided by the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership (2020-2024), with the objective of shaping a peaceful, prosperous and rules-based region with ASEAN at its centre. They welcomed the convening of ASEAN-Australia Annual Leaders’ Summits, beginning 2021. Minister Payne thanked Minister Hishammuddin for Malaysia’s excellent work as the Country Coordinator for ASEAN-Australia Dialogue Relations for the term 2018-2021. Both Ministers affirmed their support for the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN centrality. Fifteen years after the East Asia Summit (EAS) held in Kuala Lumpur in 2005, the Ministers welcomed the continuous strengthening of the EAS as the region’s premier Leaders-led forum for dialogue and cooperation on strategic issues on a broad strategic, political and economic issues of common interest and concern.
The Ministers also welcomed the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement on 15 November 2020. They shared the view that the RCEP Agreement serves as a clear signal of the region’s support for open trade and investment, regional integration and economic development. Ministers recognised the importance of the remaining four Signatories, including Malaysia, ratifying and implementing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership to strengthen regional trade and investment rules, make more resilient regional value chains, and support post COVID-19 economic recovery efforts.
Both Ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to upholding the rules-based multilateral trading system, underpinned by the World Trade Organization (WTO), and to enhancing economic cooperation and deepening regional economic integration through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Both Ministers welcomed the successful convening of the first virtual APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting (AELM) 2020, hosted by Malaysia on 20 November, and the finalisation of the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040.
Ministers reaffirmed their unwavering commitment to the MH17 Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the court trial of four suspects in the downing of flight MH17 at the District Court of The Hague, the Netherlands, and called upon on all states and actors to cooperate fully with the investigation in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2166 (2014).
Ministers welcomed plans to celebrate the bilateral relationship through the Australia now program in Malaysia which would make innovative use of digital delivery given COVID-19. They welcomed the program’s strong focus on economic, scientific and cultural links, and opportunities to enhance economic cooperation and recovery.
Australia is due to host the next Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 2021.