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Australia’s First Foreign-Born Foreign Minister Travels to Malaysia on Homecoming Visit

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a press conference after meeting with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah during visit to Foreign Ministry in Putrajaya, Malaysia, June 28, 2022.

Australia’s first foreign-born foreign minister, Penny Wong, is in Malaysia -- the country of her birth -- for talks on security and instability in Myanmar.

On Thursday, she returned to Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah where she was born in 1968. She left with her Australian mother when she was 8.

Wong has tried to reaffirm Australia's image as an increasingly diverse country that is at home in Asia.

Australia, a former British colony, has in the past been considered a largely Anglo outpost.

But recent census data has shown that more than half of its people were born overseas or have an immigrant parent.

Tim Harcourt, the chief economist at the University of Technology Sydney, said he believes Australia’s regional neighbors appreciate its cultural diversity.

“I think the Asian nations are really good at understanding Australia’s multicultural nature,” he said. “There is a good understanding of that and someone like Penny Wong herself, you know, born in Malaysia. Her father’s Malaysian, her mum was from Adelaide. So, she is a mix herself and I think it is the mix you get together between the Anglo-Celtic heritage, the Indigenous heritage and modern Australia when you have got every nationality under the sun. I think it is the mix together that is the strength, not one community or the other."

Wong also discussed regional security and defense cooperation with senior Malaysian officials.

They have reiterated their concerns about Australia’s plans for a nuclear-powered submarine fleet under the AUKUS alliance with the United States and Great Britain.

Malaysia and Indonesia have expressed concerns Australia’s proposed submarine capability could ignite a regional arms race.

Wong was in Vietnam for talks earlier this week. This is her second visit to Southeast Asia since the Labor party won an election in Australia on May 21.

She has also traveled with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to Indonesia and has also made three trips to the Pacific to counter China’s security and trade ambitions in a region that Canberra regards as its traditional sphere of influence.