Malaysia-Brunei Military Relations in the Headlines With Air Force Chief Visit

A recent interaction highlighted some ongoing efforts by both sides to enhance defense ties into 2019 and beyond.

Malaysia-Brunei Military Relations in the Headlines With Air Force Chief Visit

A picture from a previous Malaysia-Brunei defense engagement.

Credit: MINDEF Brunei

Last week, Malaysia’s air force chief was in Brunei for a scheduled visit. The interaction put the focus on the Malaysia-Brunei defense relationship and the broader state of bilateral ties more generally.

As I have noted before in these pages, Malaysia and Brunei, two fellow Southeast Asian states with long historic and cultural links, have a contemporary bilateral relationship that dates back to 1984 when Brunei got its independence from Britain. The states share a land border and have attempted to forge greater cooperation over the years in spite of some differences over boundaries and borders. On the defense side in particular, cooperation includes various aspects such as visits and exchanges, training, as well as exercises.

That has continued on into 2019 as well. Indeed, just last month, Malaysia’s Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu (popularly known as “Mat Sabu”) embarked on his scheduled first trip to Brunei since he took up his position following the shock election result last May, which saw former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s return to the premiership as head of the new Pakatan Harapan government. During that meeting, both sides discussed ways to strengthen various dimensions of their defense relationship and Mat Sabu visited a number of defense facilities as well.

Last week, the defense aspect of the bilateral relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of Malaysia’s air force chief to Brunei. Affendi Buang, the chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) was on his first introductory visit to the Royal Brunei Air Force (RBAirF) since he was appointed to the position in December 2016 following a series of reshuffles in the military of the Southeast Asian state.

Affendi’s visit to Brunei included a series of interactions. In terms of meetings themselves, according to Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF), he met with various Brunei officials including its second minister of defense – Brunei’s sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, still holds the defense minister portfolio – the chief of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF), and Affendi’s counterpart, the head of the RBAirF.

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The trip also included other engagements as well. Per MINDEF, the publicly disclosed aspects of those engagements included a honorary salute as well as the presentation of the RBAirF Honorary Pilot Wing award to Affendi on February 8 for his efforts in advancing ties between the RBAirF and the RMAF.