Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who famously said in 2004 that Australia could not join an East Asian diplomatic group because “they are Europeans, they cannot be Asians”, says he is proud a Malaysia-born Australian is the nation’s foreign minister and that all nations will be multiracial “because of ease of travel and porous borders”.
The veteran politician, 96, who made the statement to Reuters in an email late on Friday (July 1), had also predicted in a 2019 newspaper interview that migration meant Australia would in future “be more Asian than European”.
His latest comments came in the same week Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited the Malaysian city where she was born and said her story showed Australia was part of Asia, as new data showed 51.5 per cent of Australians had an immigrant parent or were born overseas.
China, Britain, India, New Zealand and the Philippines were the biggest source nations for the almost one-third of Australian residents who were born overseas, a census showed, with Asian countries combined a bigger source than Britain and New Zealand.
Wong visited Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state, where she lived for eight years as a child before moving to Australia, as part of an official visit to Malaysia.
“One in two Australians are either born overseas or have parents who were born overseas so this is a very Australian experience,” she told reporters.
“We are a multicultural and diverse nation… It is one of the strengths of who Australia is and we should tell that story in the region more,” said Wong.
She recalled that her grandmother, of Hakka Chinese descent, raised her children alone in Sabah after most of the family died in World War Two.
Wong’s Malaysian father won an Australian scholarship to study architecture at the University of Adelaide, which “meant he could climb out of the poverty he experienced as a child”.
He married an Australian woman, and the couple returned to raise a family in Kota Kinabalu.