KUALA LUMPUR - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will have more than just strategic interests in mind when he arrives in Malaysia on Saturday.
His official engagements include an address to the Malaysia-Australia Business Council and promoting The New Colombo Plan, his Government's new initiative to foster closer educational ties between Australia and the Asia-Pacific.
However, of greater significance will be Abbott's updates on the prolonged and frantic search exercise for Malaysia Airlines MH370 over the vast southern Indian Ocean.
His day trip comes on the heels of a memorandum of understanding signed between Australia and Malaysia to share the estimated A$52mil (RM153.4mil) cost to unlock what has been termed "modern aviation's greatest mystery".
Months of searches have failed to turn up any trace of the missing Boeing 777 aircraft carrying 239 passengers and crew, which disappeared on March 8, shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
Abbott, who met Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Perth during the initial phase of the search operations in April, will brief his Malaysian counterpart on the new search phase, which is expected to take up to a year. It will focus on a 60,000 sq km patch of sea floor some 1,600km from Perth.
"Australia's defence ties with Malaysia are among the closest in South-East Asia and we feel a deep connection to Malaysia, given shared experiences arising from the MH370 and MH17 disasters," said Abbott in Canberra.
"Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians have studied in Australia and we will soon see more Australians travelling the other way when Malaysia joins the New Colombo Plan in 2015," he said.
Under the A$100mil (RM292mil) Plan, Australian students undertaking an undergraduate degree in their universities will be able to apply for grants and scholarships to study in Asia-Pacific.
Malaysia and Australia were both beneficiaries of the historic scholarship scheme administered by the original Colombo Plan, which saw over 20,000 young students from around the region study in Australia from the 1950s to the mid-1980s.