This week, Brunei’s new naval chief paid his introductory visit to Singapore in his current capacity. The visit placed the focus on the defense side of the relationship between the two Southeast Asian states amid wider domestic and regional change.
As I have noted previously in these pages, Singapore and Brunei have a close defense relationship as part of their broader bilateral relationship. This is reflected not just in traditional aspects like exchanges, visits, and exercises, but also the more relatively unique features of the bilateral relationship, such as the fact that Brunei has benefited from the expertise of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), and Singapore’s military also holds training in Brunei as it does with a number of its other key partners.
The defense relationship has continued over the past year as well, through both exercises and regular meetings. One aspect of this has been high-level visits, with particular attention on them as officials from both sides pay introductory visits after assuming their positions following some personnel changes in 2018 and 2019, which in some cases are tied to wider domestic developments in these countries as well as future priorities in the defense realm more specifically. For instance, just earlier this month, Singapore’s new air force chief had paid his introductory visit to Brunei in the capacity that he had assumed in March.
Last week, the defense component of the relationship was in the headlines again with the introductory visit of Brunei’s navy chief to Singapore. Haji Othman bin Haji Suhaili, the commander of the Royal Brunei Navy (RBN), was in Singapore for an introductory visit that lasted from May 13 to May 17. Haji Othman’s trip came just weeks after he was confirmed as Brunei’s 16th navy chief in an official handover ceremony back in April.
Haji Othman’s introductory visit was one of several defense-related engagements that were tied to a series of broader ongoing events in Singapore, including the International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC) and the International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (IMDEX) Asia at Changi Exhibition Center. The trip provided him with an opportunity to also hold interactions related to the Brunei-Singapore defense relationship as well.
Haji Othman’s trip comprised of a series of interactions. In terms of meetings, he met with a series of officials in Singapore including Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen, Chief of Defense Force Melvyn Ong and Chief of Navy Lew Chuen Hong. Per Brunei’s defense ministry, those meetings were an opportunity for both sides to reaffirm and review the state of their longstanding defense collaboration, in addition to discussions of mutual issues of concern and potential areas for strengthening ties.
Beyond these meetings, Haji Othman also had a series of other engagements during his visit. In addition to the usual components of such visits such as reviewing a guard of honor at the defense ministry, per Singapore’s defense ministry, he also visited the Formidable-class Frigate RSS Formidable at RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base.