Earlier this week, Vietnam’s naval chief paid a visit to Brunei. Though the interaction was just the latest in ongoing defense ties between the two Southeast Asian states, it nonetheless shed light on the cooperation underway in the naval domain among the two Southeast Asian states amid broader trends and developments and the future trajectory of relations in this area.
Brunei and Vietnam, two fellow Southeast Asian states, have had a defense relationship in place as part of their wider bilateral ties, and in recent years, that has gradually grown to include a more formal naval component as well. Particularly following the signing of a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation by the Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) and the Vietnam People’s Army (VPN) in 2013, both sides have been looking for opportunities to strengthen naval ties in various areas including goodwill visits, training, and boosting communication, while also managing some challenges, whether it be on illegal fishing or responding to China’s growing maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea as claimants (See: “Why Vietnam’s New Coast Guard Law Matters”).
Defense ties in general and naval relations more specifically have continued to be a focus in major visits and consultative mechanisms, even though details are often undisclosed and progress has often been slower than intended. And ties have occurred alongside other trends and developments as well, be it Vietnam’s own increasing focus on maritime diplomacy with neighboring states or Brunei’s deepening economic woes which have affected its ability to resource its serious defense needs (See: “What’s Behind Brunei’s New Defense Budget Hike?”).
This week, the defense relationship was in the headlines again when Vice Admiral Pham Hoai Nam, the Commander-in-Chief of the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN), visited Brunei. Nam and his delegation were in Brunei from June 24 to June 25, and during the visit, they meet with a range of officials including the Commander of the Royal Brunei Navy, the Second Minister of Defense, as well as the Commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.
According to Brunei’s defense ministry, the meetings touched on various components of naval ties, including goodwill visits made by VPN ships to Brunei and personnel training, as well as other regional and global developments of common concern. They also discussed ways to strengthen defense ties through various bilateral and multilateral means.
Unsurprisingly, few additional specifics were publicly disclosed by both sides on the visit. But given the relatively increased activity we have seen in the maritime domain within the bilateral relationship, how both sides proceed on this front in the coming years will continue to be an interesting space to watch.