Doorstop, Australia-Malaysia Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Kuala Lumpur

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, shared COVID-19 recovery.
06 November 2021

Dato’ Saifuddin: Excellency Marise Payne Foreign Minister of Australia, teman teman (translation: friends), I have just co-chaired the first Malaysia Australia Annual Foreign Ministers' Meeting with my Australian counterpart. The meeting is significant as it is the first AFMM since the bilateral relationship was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in January 2021. A Joint Statement will be issued later and we discussed many things, particularly under the three main pillars of the CSP framework. Namely economic prosperity, society and technology, as well as defence cooperation and regional security. We discussed issues on digital economy, health diplomacy, resumption of travel, the situation in Myanmar and I also briefed my counterpart on our efforts in trying to assist the Rohingya refugees who are here in Malaysia. We agreed to collaborate in expanding the development of vaccines and access to relevant technology and knowledge, and expanding public health capacity collaboration and cooperation. We also discussed and exchanged views on mental health, and shared a lot of concern and promise to cooperate further in the areas if counter terrorism and cyber security. On ASEAN, I expressed Malaysia's appreciation of Australia's role and also their support for the ASEAN centrality principles and we very much welcome Australia's participation as an active partner to ASEAN. I must also note the support of Australia's for the Five Point Consensus achieved by the ASEAN leaders in trying to address the issues pertaining to the situation in Myanmar. We also discussed a little bit on perhaps the possibility of working together in the area of women empowerment in many parts of the world - in Malaysia, in the region and perhaps also in Afghanistan. We didn't agree about anything but we agreed we need to find ways about how we can help our Afghanistan brothers and sisters. 

Marise Payne: Good afternoon and thank you very much for the opportunity to be in Kuala Lumpur this week. It's been a great pleasure to attend the Annual Foreign Minister' Meeting with the honourable Foreign Minister Dato' Saifuddin and his team here today. This is, as the Minister said, the first of our Annual Foreign Ministers' Meetings that's occurred since our relationship elevated to a CSP in January of this year. I did say that in the course of our discussion the fact that Malaysia and Australia have been able to work together to do the work that's required to elevate the relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership through all the challenges that COVID-19 has thrown at both of our countries is a real testament to the professionalism of both our ministries and departments and the work that they've done and a testament indeed to the political commitment of both our governments to ensure that we've been able to able to bring the CSP about.

We have a close and enduring friendship built on shared history, people-to-people links and on strong bilateral cooperation. The Minister and I have discussed cooperation between our nations and affirmed our continued commitment to the three pillars under the CSP. They are the pillars of economic prosperity, society and technology, and defence and regional security.

Today, we also discussed cooperation on pandemic recovery through vaccine access, through policy exchanges and importantly addressing mental health challenges - a matter I also had the opportunity to discuss last night with Minister Khairy. I have emphasised Australia's very strong support for ASEAN and for our vision of the Indo-Pacific that has ASEAN at its centre. Australia is very proud to have become the first country to agree to establish a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with ASEAN just in the last week. And as our region goes through profound changes with strategic competition increasing, Australia's Indo-Pacific vision remains consistent. We support an Indo-Pacific that is open, secure, resilient and prosperous. And we strongly support the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

We'll continue to work with our friends here in Malaysia and all our partners to realise that vision and to ensure the security and the prosperity of our region as we recover together from the impacts of the pandemic and look to a very positive future. Thank you very much.

RTM: You mentioned about the cyber security. As you know cyber security is really important right now. Maybe you can share and elaborate a bit on what the focus is on cyber security. 

Dato’ Saifuddin: I think we both agree that cyber security is now the leading non-traditional threat of the world including our region and the need for both countries to work together in certain ways. Cyber security involves many sectors, corporate sectors, government and also defence. So, there was a general understanding between the two of us that our two people should start talking to each other on some of these issues. I offered of course the professional agency that we have, Cyber Security Malaysia is probably the point organisation to start the discussing rolling. But there's more to it because cyber security normally looks at the corporate sector and the government sector, then there is the military side and the defence side. But her excellency is meeting her counterpart tonight, Hisham, so perhaps they can continue discussing on that point. You want to add?

Marise Payne: I would agree with everything the Minister has said. We have a very strong relationship, a partnership between Australia and Malaysia on these matters. My Cyber and Critical Technology Ambassador, Dr Tobias Feakin, and his Malaysian counterparts work closely together on these issues. We launched an International Cyber Security and Critical Technologies Engagement Strategy earlier this year, and want to work closely with Malaysia on aspects of that. The only thing I would add to what the Minister has said is that we also need to be conscious that our communities need to be safe online. That includes through the good and the bad of the impact of social media on our communities. I'm very conscious of that. I'm particularly conscious of that in relation to often the impact on girls and women and that's something I look forward to working together with Malaysia on as well. 

Bernama: To what extent has the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries been affected due to COVID and what are your focus for this year?

Marise Payne: Thank you, thank you very much. I think for all of us we would certainly acknowledge that there has been some decline in those aspects of the bilateral relationship from a trade perspective but that is experienced across so many partners and Australia and Malaysia are no exception. But, we have the advantage of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which enables us to work under its pillars on a shared economic recovery, particularly the pillar of economic prosperity, the first pillar that I mentioned. That is certainly a shared priority for both of our countries. We also, in trade and investment terms, have a high degree of complementarity between our two economies. And using the CSP to maximise that complementarity is key. We have two FTAs between Australia and Malaysia, if you take into account the MAFTA and also the Australia-ASEAN New Zealand FTA, the AANZFTA, as well. Australia has now ratified both the CPTPP and the RCEP and we discussed that today and that will certainly be part of driving that trade recovery, that economic recovery from 2021 into 2022.

Dato’ Saifuddin: I share with her Excellency that one of our focus would be on digital economy and I also try to impress upon her that when it comes to digital investment then the two organisations the government has entrusted upon them to be in charge would be MATRADE, MIDA and MDEC. 

Bernama: Good afternoon, Excellency and Dato. There are some maritime security concerns right now involving many countries including Australia as well and Malaysia. How can we move forward while maintaining good relations between two countries? 

Dato’ Saifuddin: I think there has been some collaboration between Australia and Malaysia, particularly with the Maritime Institute but I also offered our Maritime Division to also be part of that collaboration. Both Australia and Malaysia are maritime nations. We survive on maritime trade from thousands of years of our history. And again, but maritime is not limited to trade - there is security issues on maritime and other issues too. So yes I think this is another area we will collaborate more. 

Marise Payne: Thank you very much for the question. We clearly have a shared interest, as the Minister has said, in maritime security as maritime nations and as nations in the Indo-Pacific - whether it is the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific or Australia's own approach. We want to be sure that openness and freedom are the hallmarks of the region in which we live. So that interest in security and stability that we share is, I think, well exemplified in the FPDA. In particular, where for 50 years now, we have worked together in the pursuit of security and stability between not just our nations but the other three nations of the FPDA. We have a very significant defence cooperation program which also adds to our work together that enables us to create a familiarity of work between the Malaysian Defence Force and the Australian Defence Force. It enables us to create a degree of ease in terms of how the two organisations work together and I'm very proud of that as a former Defence Minister of Australia as well. But also, I am very focused on making sure that the work of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific is something with which Australia is closely associated with and closely supporting to make sure we are working together in all of these endeavours. 

TV3: Did you take any position on opening the international borders for international travellers or tourists in the nearest time?

Dato’ Saifuddin: Well, I think we are both pro opening the borders as quickly as possible. I think our Ministers of health are talking to each other and we are very hopeful that we can start travelling again but I think the understanding is that it has to be through stages. Well what those stages are is to be announced later. As and when our Ministers of health are ready. But as far as Foreign Ministers are concerned, we need to travel and we want people to travel. 

Marise Payne: Yes, Foreign Ministers are strong supporters of ensuring that we are able to return to normal as soon as possible. Australia, like Malaysia, has had very strict controls in place both domestically and in terms of our borders. They are gradually being opened up. And with both the Foreign Minister and the Health Minister last night, these are issues we have discussed. We are enthusiastic for example to see the return of international students to Australia and particularly Malaysian international students. We know how much they value the opportunity but we are also very welcoming of Malaysian students to Australia so it's not too far off. But we need to work through, as the Minister said, the various stages of both of our systems around vaccinations, around our health systems and take those steps, but hopefully not too far away. 

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