Military Chief Visit Spotlights Thailand-Brunei Defense Relations

A look at the significance of a recent bilateral interaction between the two Southeast Asian states.

Military Chief Visit Spotlights Thailand-Brunei Defense Relations
Credit: MINDEF Brunei

Last week, Brunei’s military chief embarked on an introductory visit to Thailand. While the trip was just the latest in a series of ongoing interactions between the two fellow Southeast Asian states, it nonetheless put the spotlight on the state of the defense aspect of their broader bilateral relationship amid domestic and regional changes at play within the two countries as well as in the wider region.

Thailand and Brunei share a bilateral relationship that extends to the security domain as well. Defense ties include not just interactions between the two countries directly, such as visits and exchanges, but also multilateral ones, such as their joint participation in the inaugural ASEAN maritime exercise held in Thailand last year, or Brunei’s inclusion as an observer in the 2017 iteration of the Cobra Gold exercises (See: “What Will the 2018 Cobra Gold Exercises Look Like?”).

Both sides have continued to discuss defense issues in interactions they have held. For instance, in February, when Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who officially holds the defense minister portfolio, met with a Thai defense delegation led by Tarnchaiyan Srisuwan, the Chief of Defense Forces of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, both sides had discussed aspects of their security relationship as well as broader regional and global issues of common interest.

Last week, the defense aspect of ties was in focus again with the visit of the commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF). As I have noted previously, Major General Pengiran Dato Seri Pahlawan Aminan bin Pengiran Haji Mahmud had assumed his post in February as part of some wider domestic changes in the Southeast Asian state that also affected the defense realm as well (See: “What’s Behind Brunei’s New Defense Hike?”).

His visit, which lasted from August 19 to August 21, was his first visit to Thailand in his current capacity. It was part of a series of initial trips following the change in command but also an opportunity to deepen military ties between Brunei and Thailand as well, ahead of Bangkok’s official assumption of the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional grouping for 2019 which is currently held by Singapore (See: “Where Are ASEAN’s Defense Initiatives Under Singapore’s Chairmanship?”).

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According to Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF), the visit included meetings with several officials including Tarnchaiyan, addressing various aspects of ongoing security ties including counterterrorism. He also visited the Counter Terrorist Operations Center (CTOC), the body in Thailand at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters that had been tasked with coordinating efforts in that realm domestically as well as facilitating engagement internationally.

Unsurprisingly, few additional details were publicly disclosed about what was discussed during those meetings. Nonetheless, particular aspects of bilateral security cooperation, such as counterterrorism and maritime security, are worth monitoring closely amid wider changes taking place within both these countries as well as in the broader region through this year and beyond.