Penny Wong in Malaysia, hears country doubling down on AUKUS concerns

Wary of heightening the risk of conflict in the Indo-Pacific, Malaysia has not budged from its stance, though, with Ismail telling the Japanese newspaper Nikkei last month that “on nuclear-powered submarines, we are worried if some other major economies take advantage of AUKUS”.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Tuesday.Credit:AFR

The deal was inherited by the Labor government but after flying to Kuala Lumpur from Hanoi, where she had met with Vietnamese leaders on Monday, Wong stressed that Australia’s submarine goals were aligned with a commitment to a stable and peaceful region where sovereignty was respected.

“We are not a nuclear power. There are nuclear powers in this region but Australia is not one of them,” she said. “What we are doing is replacing an existing capability with a new capability and that is nuclear-powered submarines.

“I have appreciated the opportunity to explain how we see AUKUS to the [Malaysian] foreign minister and to other counterparts in the visit I have made. It is important that we listen to concerns, that we respond to them respectfully. We hope that over time people’s concerns will be able to be allayed.”

Wong and her counterpart also discussed the human rights crisis in Myanmar, on which Malaysia has taken a lead role on in urging regional action.

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Wong is on her second visit to south-east Asia in the less than six weeks since Labor returned to government, having accompanied Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to Indonesia. She has also made three trips to the Pacific in that time.

Australia and Malaysia are long-time security partners including as part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements group, which also includes Britain, Singapore and New Zealand.

As well as regional security and defence cooperation, Saifuddin said he and Wong had discussed working closer together on cybersecurity and on the digital economy.

On Wednesday Wong will also meet with Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Trade Minister Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali before travelling to Kota Kinabalu, the Malaysian city on the island of Borneo where she was born.

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“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,” Wong said.

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