Last week, an Australian submarine docked in Brunei – the first such interaction involving the two countries. The engagement highlighted the ongoing efforts by both sides to continue to develop the defense aspect of their relationship.
As I have noted before in these pages, Australia and Brunei have long had a defense relationship as part of their wider bilateral ties, which date back to when Brunei gained its full independence from Britain in 1984. Defense collaboration was formalized via a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation inked in 1999, and covers various areas such as visits, exchanges, training, exercises, and information exchange involving key services.
That has continued on over the past few months as well. In December, both sides held another iteration of their Joint Defense Working Committee (JDWC) meeting in Brisbane, Australia, one of the key mechanisms that had been agreed upon with the signing of their MOU. More broadly, Australia has also been making more inroads in its defense ties with ASEAN as a grouping, with a case in point being the holding of the inaugural Australia-ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting last month where Canberra put forth its strategy in this respect.
Over the weekend, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the spotlight with the first-ever visit to Brunei by an Australian submarine. The first submarine visit occurred as part of a broader series of interactions between the two sides over the weekend, and it featured several Australian officials including the country’s navy chief Michael Noonan and the high commissioner to Brunei Nicola Rosenblum.
Per Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF), the Australian Collins-class submarine HMAS Dechaineux was docked in Brunei from March 7 to March 9. The submarine visit saw a series of interactions take place, including a working visit for the Brunei prince Al-Muhtadee Billah which included a safety briefing and inspection of the various parts of the submarine, as well as a dinner reception featuring a range of officials including the second minister of defense, the commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, the permanent secretary of defense, and all the service commanders.
No further specifics were provided regarding what was discussed between the two sides. But MINDEF said that the inaugural submarine visit “underscores the close and longstanding defense relations” between the two countries “that in recent years has continued to strengthen through a comprehensive spectrum of bilateral and multilateral engagements.” How exactly both sides try to translate interactions such as this into more concrete cooperation will continue to be interesting to watch in the coming months.