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Malaysia country brief

Bilateral relations

Australia and Malaysia have a strong and dynamic relationship founded on common interests and mutual respect. Our partnership is long standing and broad — from cooperation in WWII to our modern day trade and tourism links.

In 2015 we celebrated the 60th anniversary of our diplomatic presence in Malaysia. To mark this occasion our Prime Ministers announced the elevation of our relationship to a Strategic Partnership — reflecting our close collaboration, similar values and shared strategic perspectives on regional and global affairs. The Strategic Partnership will see a range of cooperative activities and annual meetings of Foreign Ministers.

Trade and investment

Australia's economic and trade relationship with Malaysia is strong. We share a common interest in a free and open trading system. In 2018-19, Malaysia was Australia's second-largest trading partner in ASEAN and ninth largest partner overall.

Defence and security

Our shared history in defence and security cooperation stretches back to World War II where Australian Soldiers fought in defence of Malaya and the subsequent liberation of Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan. This was followed by Australia's involvement in the Malayan Emergency (1950-1963) an in the Confrontation (1963-1966.) It continues today through the Malaysia Australia Joint Defence Program.

An ongoing Australian Defence Force presence exists at the Royal Malaysian Air Force Base at Butterworth. Australia and Malaysia are both members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, which is a joint arrangement between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Australia and Malaysia cooperate closely on security threats facing the region. There are close links between Australian and Malaysian police, security, counter-terrorism and immigration agencies.

People to people links

Ties between Australians and Malaysians are strong, underpinned by long-standing education links, tourism and migration.

Australia is proud of its close education links with Malaysia, which stretch back to before Malaysia’s independence (in 1957). Malaysians formed the largest number of original Colombo Plan participants (4,000). We estimate there are now over 300,000 Malaysian alumni of Australian education institutions in Australia and Malaysia, including more than 125,000 Malaysians who have studied in Australia since 2002.

In 2019, Malaysia ranked sixth as a source country for international students overall. More than 24,000 Malaysians are currently studying in Australia.

There are now four Australian universities with a significant presence in Malaysia: Monash University, Swinburne University, Curtin University, and Wollongong University.

In the last decade, more than 7,500 Australian students undertook study or internship in Malaysia, including many supported by the New Colombo Plan (NCP). Since Malaysia joined the NCP in 2015, almost 3,000 Australian undergraduate students have been supported to undertake study and internships in the country. A further 472 students will be supported to study and/or intern in Malaysia in 2020.

There were an estimated 174,000 Malaysian-born people living in Australia in 2018. In 2019, Malaysia was Australia's eighth largest market for international arrivals with almost 385,000 Malaysians visiting Australia. Over 273,000 Australians visited Malaysia in the same year.

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