Next week, three Japanese vessels will dock in Brunei as part of a goodwill visit. The interaction will once again spotlight the defense ties underway between the two sides which have already continued with engagements in early 2018.
As I have noted before, Japan and Brunei share a defense partnership as part of their wider relationship, even though some aspects of this tend not to be publicized as widely. Apart from the exchange of personnel, some training, 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 (JMSDF) have been visiting Brunei since shortly after the establishment of bilateral ties (See: “Japan Aircraft in Brunei Spotlights Military Ties”).
Beyond the bilateral relationship, Japan also views strengthening defense ties with Brunei – which is coordinator of ASEAN-Japan relations from 2015 to 2018 – as part of its wider effort to boost defense relations with Southeast Asian states more generally, with the Vientiane Vision serving as the guiding vision (See: “Japan Reveals First ASEAN Defense Initiative with Vientiane Vision”).
The efforts to strengthen bilateral defense ties has continued into 2018. For instance, last week, Japan’s Vice Minister for Defense Ro Manabe was in Japan for a goodwill visit from February 1 to February 3. During his visit, the two countries discussed ways to boost their defense ties and the JMSDF carried out a range of activities, including a seminar and exercise focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and search and rescue.
Manabe’s visit followed some high-level interactions that occurred towards the end of last year in the diplomatic relationship, including between Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah – who also holds the position of defense minister – and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November. It also came after a cabinet reshuffle in Brunei in late January ahead of the annual parliamentary session in March that saw several high-level changes, including a new head of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF).
On February 11, three Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) overseas training cruise ships – JS Sawagiri (DD-157), JS Yamagiri (DD-152), and JS Yamayuki (TV-3519) – will dock at Brunei’s Muara Commercial Port for a four-day goodwill visit.
According to local media outlet Borneo Bulletin, during the visit, the vessels will participate in a range of activities, including sports games, beach cleanup work around Muara, and a ship tour with Royal Brunei Navy officers. There will also be other activities as well, including an onboard ship reception that will be made open to the public.