One of the agenda items that made headlines during Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s visit to Indonesia last week was discussions around defense equipment. Though these discussions are by no means new and specifics remain unclear, they nonetheless once again put the defense relationship between the two countries in the spotlight.
The Indonesia-Brunei bilateral relationship, following a tumultuous regional period at the height of the Cold War, has gradually evolved and grown to include a defense component, with aspects including defense training and exchanges, but also opportunities discussed on defense equipment over the past few years as well. The last time bilateral ties were in the headlines more broadly was back in October last year, when Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited Brunei as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bolkiah’s rule.
Last week, Indonesia-Brunei relations were once again in the spotlight with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s visit to Indonesia, and defense ties were part of that conversation. During his visit, Bolkiah met with several high-level Indonesian officials as well as Jokowi, and various agenda items were discussed, including those in the bilateral relationship such as trade and investment as well as broader regional issues like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which both countries have taken an interest in on their own as well as in the ASEAN context.
Among these were defense opportunities for the two sides. Jokowi said his talks with Bolkiah included opportunities for Brunei to purchase defense equipment, and Bolkiah also witnessed several exhibitions of Indonesia’s military capabilities and equipment during his visit as well. Such exhibitions are not new or unique to Brunei but part of a broader pattern where Indonesia under Jokowi has been relatively more active in advertising its own defense products at home and abroad to select countries as it promotes opportunity for its local defense industry. Indeed, there have been similar discussions that have surfaced following engagements by Indonesia and Brunei in previous years as well.
What exactly will come of those talks also still remains unclear. Jokowi and other Indonesian defense officials have said that Brunei had agreed to buy Anoa armored personnel carriers and other weapons from PT PINDAD, such as assault rifles. But few specifics have been unveiled that are important with respect to such developments, including the specific items in question, the structure of any agreement, and timelines for delivery. Jokowi also indicated that while he had mentioned to Bolkiah the opportunity to purchase more items such as ships and planes, there had yet to be a specific response.
More details will be more forthcoming in follow up meetings between the two sides. Indeed, PT PINDAD Corporate Secretary Bayu A. Fiantoro said that engagements were already expected to follow between the firm and Brunei’s military to discuss some of these purchases, since specifications of what Brunei actually plans to buy would feed into things like cost that will determine the feasibility of collaboration. As those engagements play out, the shape of these future defense opportunities for Indonesia and Brunei will likely become somewhat clearer.