India and Brunei inked a new defense pact this week during a historic visit by the Indian vice president to the Southeast Asian state.
As I reported for The Diplomat last month, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari was scheduled to embark on a five-day visit to Brunei and Thailand from February 1 to 5 to deepen ties with the Southeast Asian states. His trip to Brunei from February 1 to 3 was the first high-level visit to the tiny, oil-rich sultanate from India since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1984 (See: “India’s Vice-President to Visit Thailand, Brunei in February“).
According to a joint statement, India and Brunei signed a defense memorandum of understanding (MoU) that includes four major areas: exchange of visits at different levels; exchange of experience, information, and training; conduct of joint military exercises, seminars and discussions; and cooperation between defense industries.
The agreement was signed by Anil Wadhwa, the secretary at India’s Ministry of External Affairs, and Suriya binti Haji Umar, the permanent secretary at Brunei’s defense ministry.
While the two countries do already have some interactions in the defense realm including naval ship visits, training of senior military officers in staff colleges and exchange of experience, the agreement broadens the scope of that cooperation and also institutionalizes it.
Wadhwa also told media outlets at a press conference that a team from Brunei would visit India to follow up on the MoU and identify areas of cooperation for the future, after which concrete collaboration could begin.
In addition, the two sides also discussed progress on the code of conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea being negotiated between China and the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The defense pact was one of three MoUs signed by the two countries, with the others being in sports and youth affairs as well as health. Ansari also met with Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, where they discussed a range of regional and international issues including terrorism and the Syrian refugee crisis.
Ansari’s trip to Brunei was originally scheduled for last November but had to be cancelled when the Bali airport closed because of spewing volcanic ash from a nearby mountain in Indonesia, delaying his travel arrangements (See: “India’s Vice President on ASEAN Voyage to Indonesia, Brunei”).