Joint press conference with Malaysian Minister for Foreign Affairs Yb Dato' Sri Anifah Aman

Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

17 February 2014

Master of ceremony: Announcing the arrival of the Honourable Dato' Sri Anifah Aman, Minister of Foreign Affairs Malaysia and the Honourable Julie Bishop, Minister of Foreign Affairs Australia. Welcome to the joint press briefing session by the Honourable Dato' Sri Anifah Aman, Minister of Foreign Affairs Malaysia and the Honourable Julie Bishop, Minister of Foreign Affairs Australia. For your kind information, there will be a Q&A session after the briefing and now without further ado, we now have the honour to invite Dato' Sri to give his welcoming remarks.

Anifah Aman: Thank you very much. Salam 1Malaysia and a very good afternoon. Your Honourable Julie Bishop, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to have the opportunity to host the Honourable Julie Bishop on her first official visit to Malaysia. This visit reflects our close cooperation and relationship between our two countries and bodes well to both our countries and people, and it is in time to elevate our bilateral relationship to greater heights.

Ms Bishop and I just concluded our bilateral meeting and it was a very constructive and fruitful discussions which allows us the opportunities to exchange views on how to improve our bilateral relations in areas including trade, defence and also tourism and, of course, education which is one of the main stay of our bilateral relations.

We also exchanged ideas on some regional and international issues of concern and the discussion, as I said earlier, was very, very cordial, very constructive. I am very pleased, therefore, to receive Ms Bishop here.

On bilateral issues that we touched on and discussed, we acknowledged the excellent bilateral relationship that we have with one another, especially cemented in the areas of trade, investment, and education. The other important issue that we discussed is person-to-person exchanges and defence security.

On trade and investment, Ms Bishop has a meeting with the Malaysian and Australian business people this morning and I believe that one of the message that has been delivered was for our business people to take more advantages of the potential and opportunities that's available to both Malaysia and Australia. We welcome any business missions by Australians to Malaysia and especially to other states in Malaysia, which I believe would have ample opportunities and potentials. We also discussed that in trade. We signed the Free Trade Agreement on 1 January 2013 and both Ms Bishop and I agreed that we should seize this opportunity to further strengthen our economic and trade relationship. Ms Bishop also shared the direction of new Australian Government's foreign policy, which will focus on economic diplomacy and public diplomacy through its initiative, the New Colombo Plan.

I was very excited to hear the plan that has been outlined by Ms Bishop. Of course, the Colombo Plan was no stranger in our midst because initially in the sixties, a lot of our leaders, political leaders, business leaders and society leaders actually benefited from this Colombo Plan Scholarship. This great initiative would further enhance our relationship and of course, especially among our youth and young people, and the cultural exchanges that have been mooted by former Foreign Minister Bob Carr also bodes well for both countries.

On the regional and international issues, we discussed the South China Sea briefly. I also briefed Ms Bishop on our role as a facilitator in MILF (and the) Philippines Government and also our role in Southern Thailand. We also discussed other issues which are of concern to us, about Iran proliferation and many aspects that we think are of mutual interest to both of us.

I am indeed very pleased to welcome Ms Bishop and I therefore, give the floor to Your Excellency.

Julie Bishop: Your Excellency, thank you for your very warm welcome here, on my first visit to Malaysia as Australia's Foreign Minister. I wanted to come to Malaysia early on after my appointment to highlight the importance of the bilateral relationship and the value that Australia places upon Malaysia as a strategic and economic partner. We have strong historic links based on defence and strategic cooperation, we have strong economic and trade and investment links. But it is the people-to-people links through our education exchanges over many decades that really give a unique quality to this very special relationship.

In terms of our economic co-operation, as the Minister and I discussed during our very productive and fruitful discussions today, our economic relationship is strong. Malaysia is our ninth largest trading partner and third largest trading partner amongst the ASEAN countries. We have a free trade agreement between us that was signed over twelve months ago. This morning I met with members of the Malaysia-Australia Business Council, who spoke of the opportunities that lie ahead for Australian companies wishing to do business in Malaysia and Malaysian companies wishing to do business in Australia. We certainly welcome increased Malaysian investment in Australia.

We also discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and our mutual interest in seeing a successful conclusion of a comprehensive, high quality Trans-Pacific Partnership because we're both keen to see enhanced economic integration in our region.

On the bilateral front, we spent some time talking about the educational links. This began back in 1950 when Australia, through the Colombo Plan, offered opportunities for young students in the region to study at universities in Australia. It was about capacity building, it was about creating links, connections and networks, and in fact, in many instances these have lasted a lifetime and beyond. About 4,000 Malaysian students studied in Australia under the original Colombo Plan, many of them have sent their children to study in Australia, I suspect grandchildren in some instances. Beyond the Colombo Plan, we estimate that about 300,000 Malaysians have studied in Australia. Currently, for example, there are about 20,000 Malaysian students studying in Australia in our universities there and about 20,000 studying in Australian universities that are located here in Malaysia. So, the connection through education is powerful.

The new coalition government in Australia is determined to build on that educational link and we have announced a new initiative that we've dubbed the New Colombo Plan, which is essentially the scheme in reverse, whereby the Australian Government will support young undergraduates at universities in Australia undertaking studies in universities in the region, so young Australians will be coming into the Indian Ocean/Asia Pacific region to study at your universities, live with families, make friends, make connections, and come back to Australia with new perspectives, new ideas, new insights, and not only add to the productivity and prosperity of our country by virtue of their experience but will engage Australia, immerse Australia more deeply in the region.

I am delighted that the Foreign Minister has shown great support for Malaysia being a part of the New Colombo Plan from 2015. We certainly look forward to building on those already strong educational ties that exist. We also talked about the cultural exchanges that have taken place very successfully and other areas where Australia and Malaysia can work together to increase the government-to-government, people-to-people, and business-to-business links.

On regional matters, we congratulated Malaysia for chairing ASEAN next year in 2015. It will be an important year for ASEAN and we are delighted and very supportive of the fact that Malaysia will chair that important body. ASEAN has been doing some very good work in the region, its engagement with Myanmar is a stand out example, also its focus on a Code of Conduct to manage the territorial claims and issues surrounding the South China Sea.

It's 60 years next year since Australia established a diplomatic mission here in Malaysia and we think in the year of Malaysia's chairmanship of ASEAN it's an opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved and take stock of the ASEAN-Australia relationships. Take stock of the Australia-Malaysia relationship and focus on ways that we can broaden and deepen and diversify those relationships. We look forward to there being an ASEAN-Australian Leaders Meeting during 2014 and beyond.

We also discussed more generally some of the challenges facing our region, whether it is over territorial claims, non-proliferation issues, I mentioned North Korea and the support that we have received from the region in ensuring that we are united in our response to North Korea's behaviour and also in relation to Iran. So, as you can see, there are so many issues at a bilateral level, at a regional level and indeed a global level.

We also noted that Malaysia is a candidate for non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in 2015-2016 and we certainly lend our support. We are very grateful for the fact that Malaysia supported Australia in our bid to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and we certainly look forward to Malaysia being successful in its bid. So Foreign Minister, thank you very much for your hospitality and it is always a delight to meet you wherever we catch up around the world but particularly important for me to be here in Kuala Lumpur. Thank you.

Master of ceremony: Thank you Dato' Sri and Your Honourable. Now, we would like to open the floor for Q&A.

Journalist from Channel News Asia: Ms Bishop, the previous government of Australia were working together with Malaysia with regards to asylum seekers and human trafficking and I'm wondering if this current government will be continuing with this initiative?

Julie Bishop: Most certainly, our Minister for Immigration was here on the 4th and 5th of February and had a number of very positive meetings with his counterparts as to how we can work together to dismantle the people smuggling trade that exists in the region. From Australia's perspective we want to stop the flow of people on those dangerous journeys from Indonesia and the people that are coming through Malaysia, in many instances, into Indonesia, many of them have drowned at sea. The estimate is at about 1,200 people since 2008 have drowned taking that journey in unsafe boats to Australia and we promised the Australian people at the last election that we would dismantle the people smuggling trade and stop people taking those dangerous journeys. Part of that involves close cooperation with Malaysia and that will continue. Indeed we have announced an intention to gift to Malaysia two Australian Bay Class patrol boats to assist in the work that they do in cooperation with us. We also discussed the need for the Bali Process to focus on this issue. It is a regional issue, it's not just a matter for Australia or Indonesia or Malaysia. It is a regional issue and we value Malaysia's co-operation.

Journalist from Reuters: Hi Angie from Reuters. Minister Bishop, how concerned are you regarding a Reuters report saying that Indonesia is going to freeze the relationship through the diplomacy relationship with Australia? How is Australia going to repair the relationship with Indonesia?

And for Minister Aman – Does Malaysia now recognise that the Chinese has sent a navy ship to patrol the South China Sea a few week ago and can Malaysia confirm that there was a protest note sent to China regarding that issue? And how would that affect Malaysia's role in diplomacy in ASEAN, especially on the South China Sea issue? Thank you.

Julie Bishop: Thank you Minister Aman. Far be it for me to dispute a Reuters report on diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia, but that certainly doesn't reflect the situation as I see it. Yes there are challenges that we have to face in the relationship with Indonesia, but we are working through them. In fact, I met with Foreign Minister Natelagawa last December and we discussed a number of issues that were confronting us and we worked out a process to work through them and it was a process that was suggested by President Yudhoyono. Australia agreed to be part of it and we are working through that process now. As matters arise, we raise them with our counterparts. I am constantly in touch with Foreign Minister Natelagawa, not on a daily basis, but virtually. We are working hard to resolve the difficulties that have arisen in the relationship. There have been many, the ban on live cattle that was imposed by the previous government. The issue of people smuggling that flourished under the previous government and that we are determined to stop. There have been allegations arising from Edward Snowden's activities. So these are all matters that we will work with Indonesia to resolve. But there is goodwill on both sides and that's what we are seeking to do. There are issues to deal with, but like all strong relationships, there will be challenges. But we have the political will and the friendships with our counterpart ministers in Indonesia to ensure that the relationship will grow from strength to strength in the years ahead.

Anifah Aman: Thank you very much for the questions and as you correctly pointed out it appears in the papers. I did not get any confirmation on the presence of the Chinese vessels or ships in the region, but nevertheless any intrusions in our territorial waters will not get a very good response from us. We have not sent any diplomatic notes to China because, as I said, there is no confirmation, but nevertheless because of our strong and close relationship with China we will discuss and engage in discussions with what is best for both Malaysia and China and also for the region and of course during my discussion with Ms Bishop about the importance of the South China Sea, freedom of navigation and also safe passage for all other trading countries. So, I can assure you at this stage we are in close contact with China and we understand each other and we will continue to discuss and address issues of common concern.

Journalist from Bloomberg: Dato' it's Mani from Bloomberg News. I just want to check did Australia give any assurance on the spying claims on Malaysia and Indonesia, whether given any bilateral assurance?

Julie Bishop: Minister Anifah and I have discussed this previously and the conversation that we had at that time remains the case.

Anifah Aman: And just to add on I raised this issue when we were together in Perth, didn't I, at a meeting and I am quite happy with the explanation that has been given by Ms Bishop and we will leave it at that. We have agreed to continuously work together and collaborate and exchange information which is of importance to both countries.

Journalist from New Straits Times: Dato' Sri, on the MILF peace talk yesterday, latest development there is a report today that they will be signing an agreement?

Anifah Aman: Well its written by one of you (interrupted by Journalist: Yeah sorry, just need to clarify about it) I think it is progressing very well and the President of the Republic of the Philippines will be here on the 27 and 28 February. I think amongt other things if I am not mistaken, that he will issue an invitation to our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib to attend the signing ceremony sometime this year in Manila. We are very happy with the ongoing process and we hope that there will be peace in the southern Philippines which will be good to all of us.

Julie Bishop: In fact, if I might just add to that. It was a topic that we discussed during our bilateral and Australia certainly appreciates the role that Malaysia played as a third party facilitator. We support the peace negotiations both in terms of financial support but also in providing experts to assist and I will be travelling to Manila later this week and we will reiterate our support for the process.

Journalist from New Straits Times: Dato' Sri, in terms of the visit, the upcoming visit, what are the issues that are going to be raised?

Anifah Aman: You mean the Philippines?

Journalist from New Straits Times: Yes, Philippines.

Anifah Aman: Well I mean like any other countries, of course our bilateral relations with the Philippines are very strong and of course being a member of the ASEAN member states we have continuously engaged and discussed issues of common concern including South China Sea and, I think there are issues of common interest that we will discuss, which I believe among other things are how to increase our trade and investment especially in the Southern Philippines after the peace agreement that will be signed. Also other issues like the illegal immigrants in Sabah which I have personally raised with my counterpart Excellency Rosario in the Philippines and I believe this will be among the subjects that will be brought up during our meeting.

Journalist from New Straits Times: Sorry, when did you invite Philippines to set up a mission in Sabah?

Anifah Aman: Well we have invited them, we have invited them some time ago and I think we will reiterate our invitation to them because what is important is for the well-being of their own nationals too.

Master of ceremony: I would like to thank you everyone, any more questions. Last one.

Journalist from New Straits Times: Dato' Sri, can I ask you about the Singapore water agreement? What is the role of the Foreign Ministry to assist Malaysia and Singapore to discuss about the water rate because the AG Chambers has given its green light for Johor to review the its water rate with Singapore?

Anifah Aman: Well an agreement is an agreement. I mean we honour the agreement but nevertheless, I think if there is any concern for both parties which again that will benefit both of us, then we will continue talking. If there is any need for review, we will put forward to Singapore and if they respond positively then we start talking but nevertheless, as you said, there is an agreement and we will honour the agreement.

Master of ceremony: Thank you Dato' Sri and the Honourable and thank you for your participation today.

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