Pak Army Chief in Brunei; What’s Behind the Sultanate’s New Defense Budget Hike?

(PKONWEB Report) — Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa who is on an official visit to Brunei Darussalam, met leadership of the country.

The Army Chief met sultan of Brunei, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaulah. Matters of mutual interest including bilateral defense cooperation and military to military ties between both the countries were discussed, according to ISPR press release.

Gen Bajwa also met Deputy Defense Minister, Maj Gen Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awang Halbi bin Mohd Yussof (Retd).

Later the Pak Army Chief met military leadership of the country including Commander of Brunei Land and Brunei Royal Armed Forces. Matters of mutual interest including training and security cooperation came under discussion.

The political and military leadership of Brunei acknowledged Pakistan’s achievements in fight against terrorism and efforts for regional peace and stability.

In the evening, the Pakistan High Commissioner hosted a banquet in honor of the Army Chief.

Also attending the dinner were the Minister of Defense II, Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awang Halbi bin Haji Mohd Yussof; Commanders of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, Royal Brunei Land Force, Royal Brunei Navy, Royal Brunei Air Force, Joint Force; Ambassadors of China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and High Commissioner of Malaysia to Brunei Darussalam.

The Pakistan High Commissioner hoped the visit will help lay a strong foundation to further strengthen bilateral ties, especially in the field of defense, reported Borneo Bulletin.

Observers say Pakistan’s experience in security, counterterrorism and related domain, as well as export of locally manufactured highly competitively-priced defense hardware including China-Pakistan F1-17 Thunder jet fighters and Mushhak trainer aircraft could be on the table.

In an unrelated case, Brunei has upped its defense budget by almost 13 percent despite economic challenges as its once deep stores of oil and gas rapidly run dry.

What’s Behind Brunei’s New Defense Budget Hike?

Brunei, a tiny nation on the island of Borneo, in 2 distinct sections, is surrounded by Malaysia and the South China Sea– the sultanate is also a rival claimant in its territorial disputes which last year hit the spotlight several times with the West and other Southeast Asian countries accusing China of flexing its muscle in the region.

The double-digit increase in Brunei’s defense budget this year as compared to previous drastic cuts over the years happen despite lingering economic challenges that the Southeast Asian state continues to face– the nation’s once deep stores of oil and gas is rapidly running dry– said to be a decade away from depletion.

The Sultanate’s “Wawasan 2035,” or Vision 2035 aims to transform the country into a regional trading and financial hub within the next two decades.

Last week, Brunei’s defense ministry confirmed that the country’s defense budget had been set at just over 493 million Brunei dollars (US$375 million). The new figure constitutes an increase of almost 13 percent over the previous year citing the importance of defense in terms of the country’s broader goals, including preserving the country’s security and achieving its Wawasan 2035 vision.

In his remarks to Brunei’s 14th Legislative Council, Brunei’s Minister of Defense II, Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awang Halbi bin Haji Mohd Yussof mentioned seven areas of priority– protecting its territorial integrity; preserving a high level of preparedness and readiness; supporting a “whole of nation” approach; conducting effective defense diplomacy; involvement in international missions; sustaining high standards in terms of human resource capacity; and maintaining a respectable and credible image for the country’s defense organization.

While other foreign investors up stakes, China is giving the Southeast Asian sultanate a new lease on economic life. Beijing considers the sultanate as an important node in the US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), President Xi Jinping’s signature continental and maritime infrastructure development initiative, China’s ambassador to Brunei Yang Jian said last year.

International banks such as HSBC and Citibank have recently ceased operations in Brunei in sight of its contracting oil and gas business, driven down by years of depressed global energy prices. But one major financial institution has filled the vacuum: Bank of China (BOC).

BOC established a branch in Brunei in 2016 to facilitate Beijing’s foreign direct investments.

Some observers believe China intends to leverage its major investments and close political ties with Brunei’s ruler to sway the country’s stance on multi-nations’ territorial disputes in the South China Sea which Beijing claims in full. That, they say, would deter other Southeast Asian claimants from reaching consensus on the issue.

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