This week, Brunei and Thailand held another iteration of a scheduled high-level intelligence exchange meeting. Though the engagement was just one 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 relationship.
As I have observed before in these pages, the Thailand-Brunei security relationship includes interactions between the two countries directly, such as visits and exchanges, as well as their joint participation in broader multilateral engagements, be it within the framework of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or outside of it, with the Cobra Gold exercises being a case in point in this regard.
The advancement of defense ties has continued on into 2019 as well amid domestic and regional change, with Brunei’s military looking to adjust following a series of high-profile personnel changes last year and Thailand managing a series of priorities at home and abroad, including a just concluded election and holding the annually rotating ASEAN chair. In February, 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, where both sides had another high-level opportunity to discuss aspects of their security relationship as well as broader regional and global issues of common interest.
This week, this aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the holding of the sixth interaction of the Thailand-Brunei intelligence exchange (INTELEX) between the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) and the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTARF), one of the key avenues for the information exchange aspect of the relationship. The INTELEX was held between RTARF and RBAF officials between April 29 and May 1, and the engagement was led by RBAF Commander Major General Pengiran Dato Paduka Seri Aminan bin Pengiran Haji Mahmud and visiting RTARF Director of Joint Intelligence Lieutenant General Nothapol Boonngam.
As per previous interactions of INTELEX, both sides reviewed the state of their current relationship – with respect to information exchanges as well as military-to-military relations more generally – and also discussed issues of mutual interest. Per the Brunei defense ministry (MINDEF) account of the meeting, the two also discussed future interactions between the two sides.
Unsurprisingly, not much was publicly disclosed by either side in the way of additional specifics about their private deliberations. Nonetheless, as both sides continue to adjust amid wider domestic and regional changes, it is worth monitoring how the wider Brunei-Thailand relationship as well as defense ties more specifically will continue to evolve this year and beyond.