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. Malaysia is Australia's third-largest trading partner in ASEAN and eleventh largest partner overall.

The Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA) was signed in Kuala Lumpur on 22 May 2012, and came into force on 1 January 2013. MAFTA provides improved access for Australian exporters to the Malaysian market.

Information on doing business in Malaysia

The Australia-Malaysia Joint Trade Committee meetings, led by respective ministers responsible for trade, provide a regular forum for discussions on bilateral, regional and international trade and investment issues.

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 Malaysian are strong and based on long-standing education links, tourism and migration.

Our education links cover both school and university. Malaysia participates in the 'Bridge' schools partnerships program, which links schools in Malaysia and schools in Australia. Malaysians formed the greatest numbers of original Colombo Plan participants and since 2002, more than 90,000 Malaysians have studied in Australia. There are currently more than 25,000 Malaysians studying in Australia. In 2017, Malaysia ranked third as a source country for international students overall. There are now three branch campuses of Australian universities in Malaysia: Monash; Swinburne; and Curtin. Since Malaysia joined the New Colombo Plan in 2015, 1,665 Australian undergraduate students have been supported to study and undertake internships in the country. This includes 840 Australian students that will be supported to study and/or intern in Malaysia in 2018.

Other people-to-people links are similarly strong. More than 115,000 Malaysian-born people live in Australia. Tourism is growing between our two countries. In 2016, Malaysia was Australia's seventh largest market for international arrivals with 387,700 Malaysians visiting Australia and, almost 380,000 Australians visited Malaysia in the same year.

Last Updated: 27 March 2018