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Joint Statement of the 4 th Australia-Malaysia Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting 6 November 2021
1. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women of Australia, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, the Hon. Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, co-chaired the 4th Malaysia-Australia Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AFMM) on 6 November 2021 in Kuala Lumpur.
2. The Ministers took the opportunity to acknowledge the longstanding friendship between Australia and Malaysia. Ministers recognised that 2021 had been an important year for the bilateral relationship, notwithstanding the impacts of COVID-19.
3. The Ministers underlined the significance of this meeting as the first AFMM held since elevating the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in January 2021, which recognises the importance both countries place on the relationship.
4. Ministers exchanged views on COVID-19 recovery, and major strategic and economic issues underpinning developments in the region. Australia and Malaysia committed to continue working together on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest.
Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
5. Ministers acknowledged progress made under the CSP and reaffirmed full commitment to implement the CSP Plan of Action across its three pillars: Economic Prosperity; Society and Technology; and Defence and Regional Security.
6. The Ministers discussed the global outlook and expressed confidence that growth in economic ties and bilateral trade and investment between Malaysia and Australia would help support economic recovery and drive growth. The Ministers reiterated that open markets and equitable access to essential goods and services are crucial for strong and resilient post-COVID-19 growth, job opportunities and prosperity. They agreed to work to strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core, to provide a level playing field, address unfair and coercive economic practices while responding to the acceleration of protectionist measures. They reaffirmed their commitment to a successful 12th Ministerial Conference from 30 November to 3 December 2021.
7. The Ministers highlighted the work underway to upgrade and modernise the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), recognising the need to review the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA), and the importance for the remaining Signatories to ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), followed by timely implementation of those regional agreements. This work will deepen bilateral trade and investment relations by creating the best possible conditions for businesses to flourish.
8. The Ministers noted the importance of digital trade and digital innovation to economic recovery and resilience. They welcomed progress on digital cooperation, including practical initiatives such as the Australia-Malaysia Tech Exchange under the Memorandum of Understanding, signed in December 2020. They reaffirmed continuing collaboration, including in regional and multilateral forums, to reduce barriers to digital trade and promote consistent and open digital trade rules in the region.
Society and Technology
9. The Ministers acknowledged the deep, long-term people-to-people ties between Malaysia and Australia, built over decades through exchanges in migration, education and business. Both looked forward to further strengthening people-to-people connections through activities such as the 2021-22 Australia now Malaysia program to celebrate our diversity and cultural links; and renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding on Sports Cooperation to expand its scope to include, among others, youth engagement and efforts to increase women’s participation in sports; as well as the renewal of the Memorandums of Understanding on education cooperation that would strengthen the bilateral ties between Malaysia and Australia.
10.The Ministers welcomed the close bilateral cooperation throughout 2021 on health security, health science and mental health, including through technical exchanges on immunisation registers and certificates, strategic communications on vaccines, and mental health policy dialogue. Minister Saifuddin appreciated Australia’s commitment to COVID-19 vaccines access in the region and assistance through the Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative and Quad Vaccine Partnership. They agreed to explore opportunities for longer term scientific cooperation and research. Minister Payne congratulated Malaysia on its election as Vice President for the World Health Assembly in 2022 and looked forward to Health Ministers continuing to work together on global health priorities.
11.Both Ministers highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on women and vulnerable groups. They underscored the importance of mental health and committed to further cooperation in bilateral and regional forums.
12.The Ministers discussed their commitment to combat climate change and to the Paris Agreement. Ministers agreed to explore opportunities to grow cooperation, with a focus on low emissions technologies, greenhouse gas inventory systems and renewable energy.
Defence and Regional Security
13.The Ministers emphasised the ongoing importance of the Malaysia-Australia Joint Defence Program and looked forward to upcoming opportunities to enhance cooperation. They also recognised the ongoing cooperation under the Five Power Defence Arrangements, including commemoration of the 50th anniversary.
14.Both Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to furthering cooperation on traditional and non-traditional security issues, including countering terrorism, violent extremism and other transnational crimes, such as narcotics trafficking, money laundering, combatting trafficking in persons and people-smuggling, and promoting safe and regular migration. The Ministers welcomed the commitment to establish an Annual Senior Officers’ dialogue between the Australian Federal Police Commissioner and the Malaysian Inspector General of Police. The Ministers acknowledged progress made to develop a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on Cyber and Critical Technology.
15.The Ministers recalled their shared aspiration for a maritime domain that is peaceful, stable and secure. They noted the importance of ongoing cooperation on maritime security, such as Operation Redback. Ministers welcomed new initiatives to expand maritime cooperation, including projects on marine resource development, maritime domain awareness and marine plastics. They reaffirmed their intention to strengthen dialogue on maritime cooperation and shared maritime interests.
Regional and Global Cooperation
16.Australia thanked Malaysia for its cooperation and support as Australia’s ASEAN Country Coordinator (2018-21). The Ministers recalled the first annual ASEANAustralia Summit on 27 October 2021 and welcomed the agreement to establish a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between ASEAN and Australia to enhance cooperation and position the ASEAN-Australia partnership for the future. To mark this new chapter in relations, Australia noted the investment of AUD154 million in an ‘Australia for ASEAN’ package to deepen ASEAN-Australia cooperation on complex and emerging regional challenges, including the Australia for ASEAN Futures Initiative, to address complex regional challenges, to promote the circular economy and healthy oceans and to support implementation of ASEAN Outlook on the IndoPacific (AOIP); the ASEAN Scholarships initiative; and the Australia for ASEAN Digital Transformation and Futures Skills initiative.
17.Both Ministers committed to continuing to foster an open, inclusive, resilient and prosperous region with ASEAN at its centre, to strengthen ASEAN Centrality through existing ASEAN-led mechanisms. They agreed that ASEAN principles of openness, transparency, inclusivity, a rules-based framework, good governance, respect for sovereignty, non-intervention, complementarity with existing cooperation frameworks, equality, mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit, and respect for international law, including the objectives and principles set out in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and the AOIP, are the foundation for peace, security, stability and prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific. Ministers noted the recent AUKUS announcements by the Leaders of Australia, the United Kingdom and the US. Both Ministers reiterated their commitment to preserve Southeast Asia as a region free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, while contributing to global efforts, in line with our obligations and rights under the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While not a party to the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) Declaration and Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ), Australia recognises and respects the contributions both make to our shared objectives. Minister Saifuddin welcomed Australia’s steadfast commitment to meet all its obligations as a non-nuclear weapons state under the NPT. The Ministers underscored the importance of multilateralism, regionalism and adherence to international law and respect for sovereignty in contribution to global and regional peace, stability and prosperity.
18.The Ministers shared their serious concerns about the situation in Myanmar and called for an immediate cessation of violence and for inclusive dialogue between parties. They also called for the release of political detainees including foreigners, such as Professor Sean Turnell. They called on Myanmar to fulfil its commitment to the FivePoint Consensus of the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting on 24 April 2021 and acceptance for the timely and complete implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, namely, the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties to exercise utmost restraint; constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people; the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary-General of ASEAN; ASEAN to provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre; and the Special Envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned. They welcomed the efforts by the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar and called on all parties concerned in Myanmar to swiftly and fully implement the Five-Point Consensus, including by facilitating the visit of the Special Envoy to Myanmar to build trust and confidence with full access to all parties concerned. The Ministers also expressed concern about the impact of recent events, including the very serious COVID-19 situation and humanitarian crises across Myanmar. They also called on the military regime to enable safe, and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar, and to support health workers to provide care to those in need. The Ministers reiterated their grave concern over the plight of the Rohingya people forced to flee Rakhine State in Myanmar, and acknowledged the efforts of regional countries, including Malaysia, to support Rohingya displaced from Myanmar. They noted that the continuing focus on the 1 February coup must not overshadow international efforts to address the situation facing the Rohingya. They expressed commitment to working toward a safe, dignified, and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya when conditions are conducive to return, and urged Myanmar’s regime to create such conditions.
19.The Ministers reiterated 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. They encouraged all parties to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may raise tensions. Both Ministers emphasised the need for all States to comply with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Both noted that it is important for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to be consistent with international law, including UNCLOS.
20.The Ministers welcomed their close cooperation in areas of common interest in multilateral fora including the Commonwealth and the World Trade Organization.
21.Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to work together to build a prosperous, open, inclusive and resilient post-COVID-19 regional and global environment.