Late last month, a Japanese military transport aircraft made a goodwill visit to Brunei. The interaction, though short, nonetheless put the spotlight on the defense ties between the two countries.
The relationship between Japan and Brunei, which officially began in 1984, tends to be highlighted in non-military areas, primarily the economic and people-to-people realms. That is no surprise. Economically, Japan is Brunei’s top trading partner and the two countries have important linkages here, from Brunei’s decades-old exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan to the inking of the Brunei-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (BJEPA) in 2007, which was Brunei’s first bilateral free trade agreement. Both sides have also attempted to expand their people-to-people ties in recent years in various areas, such as youth exchanges and tourism.
But both sides also share a defense relationship, though the specifics of this tend to be not publicized as widely. Apart from the exchange of personnel as well as other interactions such as exercises as part of multilateral fora like the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus), aircraft and vessels from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force have been visiting Brunei since shortly after the establishment of bilateral ties.
From July 27-29, we witnessed yet another one of these goodwill visits. The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) KC-767 aircraft, a military aerial refueling and transport aircraft led by Major Shuji Onodera of the 404th Squadron, 1st Tactical Airlift Wing (1TAW), landed at Rimba Air Force Base for a three-day goodwill visit. The KC-767 reportedly made the visit en route to Komaki Air Base, having departed Djibouti where it had been completing a support mission for counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
According to the Japanese Embassy in Brunei, upon arrival, the KC-767 crew, consisting of 16 personnel, was welcomed by a Royal Brunei Air Force (RBAirF) delegation led Captain Mohd Adieb bin Abd Rahman, the Acting Flight Commander Operation, No. 15 Squadron.
While in Brunei, Onodera and the delegation reportedly made courtesy calls on Ambassador-designate of Japan to Brunei Motohiko Kato and Lieutenant Colonel (U) Abd Rahman bin Durahman, Commander Operations Group RBAirF.
No specifics were publicly unveiled about the topics of discussion. But the embassy said that the visit also included a joint briefing on the roles of the No. 15 Squadron of the RBAirF and the 1TAW of the 404th Squadron of the JASDF at the Air Movement Center (AMC) at Rimba Air Base, together with a tour of the RBAirF CN235-110M and JASDF KC-767 aircrafts.