Earlier this month, Brunei’s military chief paid an introductory visit to Indonesia. The interaction highlighted ongoing efforts by the two Southeast Asian states to further boost collaboration in the defense realm in 2019 and beyond.
As I have noted before in these pages, while Indonesia and Brunei underwent a tumultuous period in their relationship at the height of the Cold War, the contemporary diplomatic relationship has gradually evolved to include a defense component. The relationship now includes components such as high-level visits, education courses, training, and exercises, along with functional areas of discussion on issues of common interest such as counterterrorism and maritime security.
2019 was expected to see a continuation of efforts by both sides to try to further boost defense ties. During Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s visit to Indonesia last year, some defense-related priorities had been discussed, including Brunei potentially buying more Indonesian military equipment as well. And we had seen some continued movement towards bolstering relations in the security domain, including through visits, with the visit of Brunei’s air force chief to Indonesia in late January being a case in point.
Last month, the bilateral security relationship was in the spotlight again with the head of the Brunei military’s first visit to Indonesia in his current capacity. Major General Pengiran Dato Paduka Seri Aminan bin Pengiran Haji Mahmud, the commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF), conducted his introductory visit to Indonesia from February 27 to March 1.
The RBAF commander’s visit comprised a series of interactions. In terms of meetings, he met with several Indonesian officials including Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and TNI chief Hadi Tjahjanto, who also hosted him to an official dinner between the two sides. Per Indonesia’s defense ministry, while a range of matters were addressed, Ryacudu in particular highlighted the issue of terrorism and emphasized the importance of regional collaboration, which is unsurprising given the significant focus he has put on this during his tenure as defense minister (See: “Where is the New ASEAN ‘Our Eyes’ Intelligence Initiative Headed?”).
The two sides also held the third iteration of the Brunei-Indonesia High Level Committee (HLC) meeting on February 28. The meeting, which was led by the military commanders on both sides, provided an opportunity for both sides to discuss aspects of bilateral defense engagement as well as exchange views on regional and global issues of common interest.
Unsurprisingly, neither of the two countries publicly disclosed any details about the private deliberations in the HLC meeting. Nonetheless, one can expect the plans that they have for defense collaboration to play out for the rest of 2019 and beyond amid their wider domestic and foreign policies.