Why closer Brunei-Malaysia ties important for regional security

Maritime security and stability remain of utmost importance to both Brunei and Malaysia, and Brunei has enhanced its preparedness in this regard by joining the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) maritime exercise with the US.

Collins Chong Yew Keat Aug 06, 2023

The state visit by the Sultan of Brunei to Malaysia underscores the growing importance of bilateral ties that will form one of the cornerstones of regional solidarity and cooperation. It coincides with the 24th Malaysia-Brunei Darussalam Annual Leaders' Consultation (ALC) which remains an important annual platform in expanding the spectrum of bilateral and regional cooperative framework and in strengthening joint understanding and synergy of capacities.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s visit to Brunei earlier this year further added to the criticality of maintaining a future-driven relationship that is based on the historical deep bond, trust and confidence in cultivating shared interests.

The economic front is one of the critical areas of great strategic importance for both players in facing new non-traditional challenges in the form of economic headwinds, supply chain resilience, food and energy security and climate impact. Both countries also face similar challenges in traditional security settings, especially in the South China Sea, and rising regional and global geopolitical rivalry and tensions.

As both Malaysia and Brunei rely heavily on oil and gas assets to fuel their economic needs, both will need a strategic synergy of interdependence and cultivation of shared assets in facing future regional and global challenges.

BIMP-EAGA framework

Areas of low-hanging fruits include spearheading greater exchanges in talent and expertise, economic and investment opportunities that will have strategic spillover impact, critical research and higher education mobility, tourism and greater people-to-people connections.

The transition towards a digital and knowledge economy based on the high-impact value chain of critical sectors and technologies including green and renewable energy, the chips and semiconductor industry, artificial intelligence and digital-led innovation, high-impact scientific assets including space and quantum technologies form the foundational push towards the leap. 

Brunei-Malaysia ties have vast untapped potential that will provide greater returns, especially in economic and security areas. Both are in the Brunei Darussalam–Indonesia–Malaysia–Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) framework, an intergovernmental economic cooperation program geared to promote private sector-led and market-driven growth. Launched In 1994, the  BIMP-EAGA initiative which consists of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines seeks to boost growth in trade, investments, and tourism through new intra-region shipping routes and air links as well as power interconnection projects.

Other key areas of cooperation include agribusiness, tourism, the environment, and socio-cultural education. Areas of clean and renewable energy are now increasingly critical, and all four countries complement one another in forming a credible bulwark of strategic interdependence on key sectors that will have lasting effects on regional growth.

Maritime security priorities

Brunei’s maritime security priorities are driven heavily by developments taking place within the country’s immediate periphery. The major risks facing Brunei's economy are mainly from domestic factors because of its high reliance on the oil and gas sector. Notwithstanding the fact that the government has enhanced its effort to develop other industries, the role and level of the oil and gas sector in GDP growth, exports, and fiscal revenue remain high. 

Both Brunei and Malaysia are also in the Washington-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). This serves as the cornerstone in spearheading a value-based development model and in upholding the main pillars of this framework which include. fair and resilient trade, supply chain resilience, and infrastructure, clean energy, and decarbonization. 

Maritime security and stability remain of utmost importance to both Brunei and Malaysia, and Brunei has enhanced its preparedness in this regard by joining the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) maritime exercise with the US. These focus on the full spectrum of naval capabilities and highlight the ability of the US and Brunei to work together in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.

As the security landscape in the South China Sea continues to rapidly evolve, ASEAN and its related conflict prevention mechanisms remain one of the most important regional platforms for both countries in deriving economic and peace dividends and will continue to be a vital front in both protecting the interests of both countries. Also it ensures a collective and cohesive voice in ensuring stability, prosperity and rules-based adherence by external powers and internal players.

Greater synergy and integration of efforts to protect shared strategic interests will be among the important fundamentals. Malaysia-Brunei ties will need to be further enhanced and protected, for they remain the bedrock of bilateral and regional security.

(The author is a Kuala Lumpur-based strategic and security analyst. Views are personal. He can be contacted at collins@um.edu.my)

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