Last week, a British warship paid a scheduled goodwill visit to Brunei. The interaction spotlighted the ongoing efforts by both sides to further develop their defense relationship into 2019 as part of their wider bilateral ties.
As I have observed previously in these pages, the UK-Brunei defense relationship is a longstanding one, and it has continued even following the Southeast Asian state’s independence from Britain in 1984. Indeed, Britain still maintains a military presence in Brunei in one of the few such arrangements it has globally, and both sides continue to maintain close security ties.
The defense relationship, formalized via the memorandum of understanding both sides signed off on in 2002, includes several aspects such as visits, exercises, training, and education. That has continued on over the past year or so, with the last goodwill visit of British vessels to Brunei being the visit of the HMS Albion back in September 2018.
Last week, the defense aspect of the bilateral relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of the Royal Navy (RN) ship HMS Argyll to Brunei. The HMS Argyll, commanded by Commander Toby Shaughnessy and with 205 crew onboard, was on a scheduled goodwill visit to Brunei that lasted from January 21 to January 24.
The highlight of the goodwill visit was an exercise conducted by both sides. According to the Brunei defense ministry’s (MINDEF Brunei) account of the visit, before docking at the Muara Commercial Wharf, the HMS Argyll conducted a passage exercise with the KDB Darulaman that was not widely covered by international media outlets. No further specifics were provided on the exact nature of the exercise.
Beyond the exercise itself, the goodwill visit saw a range of interactions between the two sides which Shaughnessy, the crew, and other British representatives participated along with high-ranking Brunei officials and personnel. This included an onboard reception hosted by the British High Commissioner to Brunei, Shaughnessy’s meeting with the deputy commander of the Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) where they discussed ways to further advance bilateral ties between the two navies, and professional exchanges and sports activities designed to share knowledge and experiences as well as build friendships between both sides.
Not much in the way of specifics was publicly disclosed about the private deliberations both sides had about the future direction of the defense relationship, including on the naval side. Nonetheless, the goodwill visit was a reminder of security ties that often do not make much headlines but nonetheless continue to undergo some interesting shifts amid wider domestic and regional developments in the Indo-Pacific.