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Australia's top diplomat to Malaysia says ties improved after former PM Mahathir retired

Australia's top diplomat to Malaysia says ties improved after former PM Mahathir retired

Australia's outgoing ambassador says his country's relations with Malaysia have improved since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad quit because his successor is not preoccupied with bickering over whether Australia is Asian.
Mahathir, who stepped down in October 2003 after 22 years in office, often described Australia as racist and rejected Canberra's attempts to engage Southeast Asia.
He also ridiculed Australian Prime Minister John Howard for his close ties to the United States, and said Australia cannot be part of Asia because of its Anglo-Saxon population and heritage.
"Dr. Mahathir never understood Australia, and perhaps Australians never understood him," outgoing High Commissioner James Wise said in an opinion piece published in the New Straits Times Friday.
"In the past, many Australian business people concluded that poor political relations might get in the way of Australian business in Malaysia, so they didn't invest here."
Wise said Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is an improvement because he isn't "preoccupied with worn out and ultimately futile debates about whether Australia is an Asian country."
Relations between the two countries have progressed, he said, citing Australia's position as the second largest investor in Malaysia in the first three quarters of 2006.
"It's a very positive picture and the free trade agreement being negotiated should encourage even more Australian investors to come here," Wise wrote.
The negotiations, which began in 2005, have reached a fourth round, Wise said.
"The negotiators are working hard, but they have a way to go yet on some tough issues," he said, adding that the services sector had the greatest potential for growth.
Australia is Malaysia's seventh-largest export market and its 12th largest import source.
An official at the Australian High Commission, or embassy, in Kuala Lumpur confirmed Wise's commentary.


Updated : 2021-07-23 23:44 GMT+08:00