Where Are Singapore-Brunei Defense Ties?

A recent exchange between young leaders on both sides puts the focus on bilateral defense ties.

Where Are Singapore-Brunei Defense Ties?
Credit: MINDEF Singapore

Last week, as Brunei hosted the latest iteration of an exchange between its young leaders and those of Singapore, the city-state’s Second Minister for Defense Ong Ye Kung had his introductory visit to the sultanate. Ong’s trip put the focus on a bilateral defense relationship which has seen quite a bit of activity around key anniversaries during the past year.

As I have noted before, Singapore and Brunei have a close defense relationship as part of their broader bilateral ties (See: “What Did the Brunei Sultan’s Singapore Visit Accomplish?”). This is reflected not just in traditional aspects like exchanges, visits and exercises, but also the fact that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) also holds training in Brunei as it does with several other countries including Australia and the United States.

The defense relationship has seen some recent gains within the last year, with both sides commemorating its 40th anniversary in 2016. Among other things, last year both sides inked a memorandum of understanding on defense technology cooperation (DT MOU) which expanded collaboration and provided a framework to work on capabilities programs together in the defense technology domain (See: “Singapore, Brunei Ink New Defense Pact”).

One of the features of Singapore-Brunei cooperation in recent years has been the focus on promoting ties between the younger generation, which was institutionalized through the annual Young Leaders Program (YLP) which both sides take turns to host. And last week, starting on November 3, Singapore’s Second Minister for Defense Ong Ye Kung was part of a delegation of younger Singapore political office holders led by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, for the fifth Young Leaders’ Program in Brunei.

During Ong’s visit to Brunei, which was his first in this capacity, he met with several Brunei officials including the Deputy Defense Minister and Deputy Minister (Security and Media) at the Prime Minister’s Office. Though few details were publicly disclosed about the exact content of their discussions, Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF) said that both sides reaffirmed their close defense ties.

They also discussed Singapore’s role next year as the holder of the annually rotating ASEAN chair. As I have noted before, this will place the city-state front and center on a host of regional defense issues ranging from disputes in the South China Sea to counterterrorism with lingering fears about the Islamic State (See: “What’s Next for Singapore-US Ties Under Trump?“).

During his visit, Ong also visited SAF servicemen that were undergoing jungle confidence and survival training in Temburong, Brunei. According to MINDEF, he observed the training and also interacted with soldiers at a jungle survival site, speaking to soldiers about their experience in the country.