KUALA LUMPUR: Australia seeks to further enhance its human ties with Malaysia, says its Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong.
Sabah-born Wong, who spent her early years in Kota Kinabalu before moving to Australia at eight, said though Malaysia and Australia were tied together by geography, the human ties of family, business, education and tourism were stronger.
The two countries’ shared history of cooperation has also endured seismic events, including World War II, the Malayan Emergency, the Asian Financial Crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, said Wong.
“Australia wants to strengthen these ties further. We want to give more momentum to our partnership with Malaysia.
“Last year, our countries signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, setting out three broad areas of cooperation: economic prosperity; society and technology; and defence and regional security.
“This is a strong basis for deeper cooperation, but we can do more,” she said in her speech during a networking brunch with government, business and civil society leaders at a hotel here on Wednesday (June 29).
Wong said that Australia wants to work together on the challenges that both countries face including food security, health and pandemic recovery.
She added that the pharmaceutical regulation agencies of both countries are working together on Covid-19 vaccine regulation, while Australia has also been funding efforts to get vaccines to hard-to-reach populations in Malaysia, she said.
In the education sector, Wong said over the past 20 years, more than 125,000 Malaysians have studied in Australia while many Australians were also benefiting from education in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, the two-way trade in agriculture, fisheries and forestry was valued at over AU$2bil (RM6bil), with enormous potential for growth, said Wong.
Australia also supplies more than 10% of Malaysia's dairy, over a quarter of its meat imports, and 80% of Malaysia's wheat imports.
“There is much more we can do, and I note that Australia and Malaysia have committed to begin preparatory work on a general review of the Malaysia Australia Free Trade Agreement.
“I want us to modernise our trade relationship, so we can take up more opportunities in the digital economy and face challenges like cyber security, said Wong.
Australia's trade agency, Austrade is working with the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to promote research collaboration, capacity building, and technology exchange.
Next week, officials from across the Malaysian national security community will convene in Putrajaya to participate in the Digital Cyber Bootcamp, which is Australia's flagship cyber capacity-building activity.
“We are also cooperating on more traditional security threats, including transnational crime, counter-terrorism, and people smuggling,” she said, adding that under the bilateral Malaysian Australian Joint Defence Program, Malaysia and Australia continue training and professional exchanges of Defence officers.
Australia and Malaysia are also among the five countries that are party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements, formed in 1971.
These arrangements commit Australia along with the United Kingdom and New Zealand to consult in case of an armed attack on Malaysia or Singapore.
“Just as important as all of these direct partnerships between Malaysia and Australia is how the two countries work together through regional institutions like Asean,” she said.
She also said it was an honour for Australia to be one of only two countries that have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Asean.
She said she would be sharpening the focus of her department on southeast Asia, so Australia is better equipped to engage with the region.
“So we can be a stronger partner for the countries of the region, including Malaysia.
“While Asean is at the centre, we can also seek new partnerships and arrangements that also contribute to our shared objectives.
“We see the Quad as working alongside Asean and other regional architecture to strengthen our shared interests with the countries of southeast Asia,” she said.
Wong added that the countries have a responsibility to work together to achieve shared interests and ensure the region remains peaceful, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty.
“Those of us who grew up with family stories from the war, owe it to our grandparents, and our children, to preserve that region,” she said.