Last week, Malaysia’s new army chief was in Brunei for a scheduled introductory visit. The interaction spotlighted ongoing efforts by both sides to cultivate their defense ties within the broader Malaysia-Brunei defense relationship.
As I have noted before in these pages, Malaysia and Brunei, two Southeast Asian states and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have a bilateral relationship that dates back to 1984 when Brunei got its independence from Britain. Both sides have attempted to advance collaboration including on the defense side in spite of some differences over boundaries and borders, including through aspects such as visits and exchanges, training, as well as exercises.
This week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of Malaysia’s army chief to Brunei. Ahmad Hasbullah Mohammad Nawawi made the trip to Brunei that lasted from August 21 to 23, and it was the first visit to the country since he was appointed to his new position in September 2018, after his predecessor Zulkiple Kassim retired.
The trip itself consisted of a series of interactions. In terms of visits, the army chief met with a range of officials including the commander of the Royal Brunei Land Forces (RBLF), the commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) and the second minister of defense (the head of state, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, still holds the defense minister portfolio in Brunei).
Per a statement released by Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF), during the call between the Malaysian army chief and the second minister of defense, both sides reviewed the current status of defense relations between the two sides, including growing interactions between the RBLF and the Malaysian Army more specifically.
Apart from those meetings, the visiting army chief also undertook a series of other interactions as well. He was part of an official dinner hosted by the RBLF commander held at the Officers’ Mess at the Berakas Garrison, which was attended by the chief of staff of the RBLF, senior officers and officers of RBLF and their respective spouses. And per MINDEF, he also visited various defense-related facilities, including the RBAF Museum and RBAF Simulation Training Center.
Unsurprisingly, neither side publicly disclosed much in the way of specifics about their private interactions, including details on future defense-related engagements as well as other topics of regional and international interest that were discussed as well. Nonetheless, the introductory visit highlighted the ongoing defense aspect of ties that both countries continue to advance as part of their broader bilateral relationship.