Joint press conference with Malaysian Foreign Minister

  • Joint transcript with:
  • Dato' Sri Saifuddin Bin Abdullah, Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Subjects: Australia-Malaysia relations; Comprehensive Strategic Partnership; ASEAN-Australia relations; regional issues; Foreign Minister Malaysian heritage; AUKUS; food prices.

Dato' Sri Saifuddin Bin Abdullah, Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Assalamualaikum dan salam sejahtera. Her Excellency Senator Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.

Saudara saudari yang dihormati sekalian. It is really a special day for me and it is my pleasure to welcome today my Australian counterpart, Senator Penny Wong, and all of the members of the Australian delegation here at Wisma Putra. We have spoken before on the phone and it is great to finally meet you in person, Penny; especially in times like this we really need to be more engaged with one another.

During our meeting just now, I congratulated her on her appointment as the Foreign Minister of Australia. I also congratulate the stunning success of the Labor Party in the recent Australian federal elections.

Today's meeting was very fruitful, even though we don't have much time to discuss but Senator Wong and I exchanged views on various issues that ranged from bilateral to regional issues of mutual interest. As comprehensive strategic partners, we express our delight and satisfaction towards the positive growth witnessed throughout our multifaceted cooperation, especially in the post-COVID‑19 pandemic era.

We discussed, in brief, the progress of the activities under the CSP covering its three main pillars: namely, economic prosperity, society and technology, as well as defence cooperation and regional security.

In the economic pillar, I highlighted Malaysia's current position to put a lot of focus on digital economy. While on society and technology, we emphasise the importance of people-to-people relations. For example, the biggest number of Malaysian students as a group in any particular country is in Australia; there are now about 12,000 Malaysian students studying there.

On defence cooperation and regional security, besides the continuing of our defence cooperation, I also highlighted the importance of cybersecurity.

Malaysia and Australia both have multicultural and multireligious society, and this is also one area where we can further develop in terms of our people-to-people cooperation.

On regional issues, I thank Australia for being a strong supporter of ASEAN. Australia was ASEAN's first ever Dialogue Partner in 1974 and has been actively contributing to ASEAN ever since. The elevation of ASEAN-Australia dialogue relations to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership recently is indeed a landmark achievement. Malaysia is confident that all of the various collaborative efforts made under the Partnership will contribute significantly towards supporting the region to rise from the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Both of us exchanged insights on a wide range of regional issues, in particular on Myanmar. I took note on Australia's position on Myanmar and we express that we are very thankful that Australia is already, in some ways, assisting especially on the humanitarian side.

Well, I suppose those were the things that we discussed: some quite in detail, some probably not so much in detail, but we have promised ourselves to work even closer, between the two of us. Over to you.

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Terima kasih, Foreign Minister. Can I say to you and to all here what a great honour it is to be received here and to meet with you as Australia's Foreign Minister.

As people know, I was born in Kota Kinabalu and it is a very special day for me to come here representing the country I now am living in and representing the people of Australia in the country of my birth. It really is very special for me, and I thank you for receiving me and I thank you, Foreign Minister, as I said, I know you've had a very busy schedule. It was very good of you to make such an effort to receive me.

We have a new government in Australia, and me being here I hope is a reminder of modern Australia. As the Minister said, like Malaysia, we are a multicultural nation, a nation where so many Australians were born overseas or have parents born overseas. And we have people from all corners of the globe but we also have a great many from Malaysia and from Southeast Asia, and we understand that our future is interlinked with the future of Southeast Asia, the future of ASEAN. We share the same future because we share the same region, and that is how we will approach our relationship and how we will approach many of the challenges that we face.

I thank the Foreign Minister for a very productive meeting. I echo his words about us working together closely. We have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between our two nations and we agreed today that we would work to give greater momentum to that partnership with a focus on practical cooperation. And the Minister has gone through some of the issues that we traversed, including digital technology, cybersecurity and, of course, education, which is such an important aspect of our relationship.

I have a particular personal interest in education and educational ties because my father, in the 1960s, was a Colombo Plan scholar to Adelaide, which is where he met my mother and that's why I'm here.

I reiterated to the Minister that the Australian Government remains committed to ASEAN centrality, and we see ASEAN as the centre of a stable, peaceful, prosperous region in which sovereignty is respected. So, Foreign Minister, I thank you for receiving me here today and I look forward to many more discussions.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Okay. Thank you. Are there any questions? Yes? Please. Okay.

Journalist: Good afternoon, Dato' Sri and Minister Wong. I would like to ask Dato' Sri and Minister Wong: Malaysia and Australia have become comprehensive strategic partners last year. How do you see this relationship in the coming years and at the regional level, is it a greater relationship between Australia and ASEAN? Thank you.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, the total trade in 2021 between the two countries was USD 14 billion, and this is an increment of about 30 percent from what it was in 2020. But both of us say that the number is good but surely we can look at ways and means to add to that number. So there will be specific discussions by the relevant agencies, especially on trade. But the Foreign Minister is also meeting with Dato' Seri Azmin to specifically discuss issues on trade.

So the way forward is really more trade between the two countries. I'm very confident that this is something that we can work on. And this is where, for example, I highlighted the point on cybersecurity, that could be one area where we can enhance cooperation.

We put a lot of value on, and appreciation on, Australia's engagement with ASEAN, and they are very much near to ASEAN. We always welcome their participation in all of the three tiers of the ASEAN community works; the political economy and the social, cultural tiers of the ASEAN framework.

Minister for Foreign Affairs: If I could add just very briefly, I think post‑COVID – obviously that's had an effect on the global economy, the regional economy and all our domestic economies. I think it would be of benefit to both nations for there to be greater momentum within the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and I think we discussed some of the ways in which that could occur.

In terms of ASEAN, in addition to the strategic precept that Australia has, which is ASEAN centrality, I would again emphasise that we are privileged and honoured to be a comprehensive strategic partner of ASEAN.

When I was in Jakarta recently with Prime Minister Albanese, we met with the Secretary-General and I took the opportunity to meet with the permanent representatives as well to talk through with them the various ways in which we can give practical life the CSP with ASEAN, and there's some very good projects which we are working on together. I look forward to that being implemented over the weeks and months and years ahead, and an even stronger relationship between our country and ASEAN which, as the Minister points out – we were the first Dialogue Partner and we understand and believe in its importance.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Yes, a second question was the gentleman that was ‑ okay.

Journalist: A question for Minister Wong. Chris Barrett with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Hi Chris, how are you?

Journalist: Good, thank you. Malaysia has expressed concerns about the AUKUS deal and Australia's plans to have nuclear-powered submarines in the region. Prime Minister Ismail said last month that if China, for example, wanted to help North Korea purchase nuclear‑powered submarines, Malaysia wouldn't be in a position to object because AUKUS has set a precedent.

Your government inherited the submarines deal but is committed to it, so how will you go about assuaging those concerns that it could instigate an arms race, and how do you convince countries like Malaysia that it's necessary and is not going to further antagonise China?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I'd make a few points about this. First, we have, and in Opposition, we committed to support this capability. Second, and this is very important ‑ we are not a nuclear power. There are nuclear powers in this region but Australia is not one of them. What we are doing is replacing an existing capability with a new capability and that is nuclear‑powered submarines. The propulsion system is powered by nuclear power.

But we remain very clear that we do not seek, and nor would we ever seek, to have any nuclear capability on our submarines. So that's the first problem because I think sometimes people hear the word "nuclear" and I understand there's a response to that. We are talking about nuclear propulsion, not nuclear weapons.

We know our region is being reshaped economically and strategically. Australia, Malaysia, the countries of ASEAN, are seeking to navigate this period of change. Australia will always operate on the basis that we have this objective: a region that is peaceful, a region that is stable, a region that is prosperous, a region in which sovereignty is respected, and, importantly, a region where rules enable some predictability to State behaviour and to the way in which disputes would be dealt with.

So, from Australia's perspective, that is what we are focused on; and the work we do and the approach we take to those sorts of strategic issues will always be guided by that objective. I make also this point: in my previous answer, reaffirmed again the principle of ASEAN centrality and that remains. That remains.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Next question, please.

Journalist: Hello, Senator Wong. On AUKUS, the announcement last year about on AUKUS has raised major security concern among countries in Southeast Asia. What's your government's stand on this issue now?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, I think I went to most of that in my previous answer, if I may, but I would say this: I appreciated the opportunity to explain how we see AUKUS to the Foreign Minister and to other counterparts in the visits I have made prior to this visit, which are obviously to Vietnam and to Jakarta. So we appreciated the opportunity to go through some of the things I've just outlined.

It is important that we listen to concerns, that we respond to them respectfully. That's how the new government will seek to deal with some of the issues which have been raised. And we hope that over time people's concerns will be able to be allayed.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Okay. Next question.

Journalist: Hello. Hi, Emma Conners from the Financial Review. My question too, I'm afraid, is about AUKUS and the Quad really. But Dato' Sri, I'm just wondering, we heard a lot about Malaysia's concerns when the agreement was first announced but that is now some time ago. And we've also heard some concern about Quad and ASEAN.

There's been some suggestions that, you know, the US could be looking to create an Asian type of NATO and that has concerned some ASEAN States. But I'm just wondering if your concerns have changed since the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, which has shown us all what happens when the rules‑based order is not observed. Thank you.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, Malaysia highly values the regional peace and security of the ASEAN region, and we want to maintain the South China Sea in particular and the region as a whole, as a region of peace, of commerce, of prosperity. And we had a very candid discussion on AUKUS just now and I thank the Foreign Minister for explaining the current government's position. And Malaysia's position remains the same and this I have mentioned to the Foreign Minister. Any other questions? Alright. That's it. Okay.

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: No question? Oh.

Journalist: Another question, I'll gladly ask one. The Malaysian Government has been, as has the Indonesian Government, been speaking about concerns over the booming food prices as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and I wonder if you spoke with Senator Wong about what Australia might do to help alleviate the concerns of its Southeast Asian neighbours?

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, the Minister was very kind in her elaboration with me, mentioning something to that effect. Perhaps if Foreign Minister wants to say something about it.

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you, Foreign Minister. I think the consequences of what is occurring in Ukraine are obviously strategic but they are also economic, as you've alluded to. And one of the points we discussed in the meeting was that Australia continues to be a reliable supplier, for example, of wheat and meat at a time where global supply chains have been constrained. And obviously, as a comprehensive strategic partner, we will work with Malaysia, if required, on any issues they have in terms of their supply constraints arising out of the conflict in Ukraine. Thank you very much.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs: Thank you.

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