SHAPING A FUTURE TOGETHER |China-Brunei

By Fu Congcong (Research fellow at the Center  for Sino-Indonesian People-to-people Exchanges at Beijing Foreign Studies University)

Brunei Vision 2035 charts a course for sustainable development alongside steady quality improvement and upgrading of China-Brunei strategic cooperative relations.

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Brunei, officially Negara Brunei Darussalam, is a Malay Islamic Monarchy situated on the northwestern edge of the island of Borneo with a population of 420,000. The territory is blessed with abundant oil and natural gas resources including proven oil reserves estimated at about 1.1 billion barrels, accounting for 0.1 percent of the global total. Energy exports have earned considerable revenues, leading to the country’s relatively higher per capita GDP and substantial social welfare. To diversify Brunei’s economy away from heavy dependence on oil and gas resources and stimulate sustainable economic growth, the Prime Minister’s Office of Brunei launched the Brunei Darussalam Long-Term Development Plan, better known as “Brunei Vision 2035” in January 2008. A decade has passed, and a diversified economy is beginning to take shape in Brunei. In 2016, the oil and gas sectors contributed 53.3 percent of the country’s GDP, a decreased of 2.6 percent compared to 2015. The Global Competitiveness Report 2017–2018 published by the World Economic Forum cited Brunei as a forerunner among ASEAN countries in economic growth, ranking it 46th out of a total of 137 economies. The World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business Report named Brunei Darussalam the most improved economy in the world in terms of ease of doing business. Overall the Sultanate ranked 4th in the ASEAN region and 11th in the Asia Pacific.

Targets, Concepts & Approaches

Brunei Vision 2035 is a national development plan aimed at reducing too much reliance on oil and gas resources and achieving a dynamic and sustainable economy. It consists of three phases: Wawasan Brunei 2035, Outline of Strategies and Policies for Development (20072017) and the National Development Plan (2007-2012). The goals of the latter two have already been achieved. In his 2018 New Year’s message, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, stated that as the year 2035 approaches, Brunei should firmly stick to the path of realizing a developed Brunei. People across the country must focus on development to promote economic growth, while governments should manage national resources in an efficient and effective manner to ensure the country eventually realizes the national vision, added His Majesty.

Brunei Vision 2035 aims to transform Brunei Darussalam into a nation that is known throughout the world as a place where people are educated, highly skilled and successful as determined by the highest international standards. It endeavors to provide high quality of life rivaling the world’s top ten countries through a dynamic and sustainable economy. To this end, three objectives have been formulated: First, improving people’s living standards step by step. Second, accelerating human resources development with assistance from the government. Third, developing a diversified economy.

To ultimately achieve the goals outlined under the Brunei Vision 2035, the Brunei government has identified national development strategies in eight areas including education, economics, security, institutional development, local business development, social security and the environment.

The core mission of Brunei Vision 2035 is to make Brunei a “land blessed by Allah the Almighty” formulating, coordinating and implementing national policies that agree with the philosophies of the Malay Islamic Monarchy. To achieve this goal, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has outlined three core strategic themes, namely Leadership Excellence, Good Governance and Policy Outcomes. Clearly, the intense focus on realization of the Vision testifies to the Brunei government’s commitment to ensuring political stability,  economic development, social stability, national security and ecological health in the era of globalization.

Upgrading Cooperation

People-to-people exchanges between China and Brunei can be traced back centuries. Not only are the two countries close neighbors across the sea, they are also trusted friends and partners. Since their diplomatic ties were established, mutual trust has been continuously deepened and mutually-beneficial cooperation has yielded fruitful results. In 2017, governments of the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative which further deepened bilateral strategic relations and inspired both countries to brainstorm how to better integrate their development strategies, make their respective advantages complementary, and promote quality improvement and upgrading of bilateral relations.

Leaders of both countries have enthusiastically endorsed strategic alignment and cooperation upgrading between the two sides. On September 13, 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, at which time both agreed that China-Brunei ties have reached a key stage of development. Xi stressed that China is ready to share governance experience with Brunei, synergize their development strategies and promote closer cooperation in various areas. He added that China is willing to work with Brunei to seize the Belt and Road opportunity to cement cooperation in areas such as infrastructure construction, energy, halal food, agriculture, fishery and the digital economy and increase exchange in culture, education, sports, public health, tourism, media and other areas to consolidate public support.

Brunei Sultan expressed hope that Chinese businesses would participate in his country’s Vision 2035 by boosting cooperation in agriculture, fishery, energy, infrastructure construction, halal food and the digital economy. The Sultan also remarked that Brunei is enthusiastic about maintaining high-level exchange with China while further strengthening people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Leaders of the two countries agreed to jointly plan future cooperation to propel bilateral relations to new heights and bring greater benefits to peoples of the two countries.

To further improve bilateral relations and better integrate the Belt and Road Initiative and Brunei Vision 2035, both countries should cement cooperation in following three ways:

First, focus should be placed on economic and trade cooperation. Since the turn of the 21st Century, bilateral trade has skyrocketed. In 2017, China became Brunei’s fourth largest export destination, with 8 percent of Bruneian exports going to China, following Japan (31 percent), Malaysia (15 percent) and Australia (11 percent). Of imports to Brunei, 31 percent came from China, 18 percent from Singapore, 14 percent from Malaysia and 6 percent from the United States. In 2017, China-Brunei trade volume was US$1 billion, an increase of 36.5 percent over 2016. China mainly imports crude oil from Brunei and exports textiles, building materials and plastic products the other way. In the context of Belt and Road construction, both sides can strengthen trade cooperation in fields of agriculture, fishery, halal food and energy.

Encouraging results have been achieved in bilateral cooperation in investment and contracted labor services. By the end of 2017, Brunei had invested a total of US$2.79 billion in China. The two sides can expand investment cooperation in the digital economy, high technologies, logistics, pharmaceuticals and industrial parks.

Second, people-to-people and cultural exchanges can serve as a solid foundation for strengthening the relationship. Peopleto-people connectivity is not just a social foundation but also fundamental goal of Belt and Road construction. People-to-people exchanges can boost mutual understanding, trust and friendship between citizens of the two countries while promoting bilateral economic ties. Both countries should strengthen exchange and cooperation in fields of culture, education, sports, healthcare, tourism, media exchange and local exchange to consolidate the popular foundation of friendship between the two countries, particularly through youth exchange, academic mutual learning and artistic exchange.

Third cooperation in tertiary industries is thriving with potential. Brunei abounds in tropical forests and picturesque beaches, providing favorable conditions for the development of tourism. Early in 2000, the National Tourism Administration of China and the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources of Brunei signed Memorandum of Understanding on the Implementation Plan for Outbound Travel by Chinese Citizens at Their Own Expense to Brunei Darussalam for the purpose of ensuring that the outbound travel by Chinese citizens at their own expense to Brunei could develop in a healthy manner.

Similarly opportunities have emerged in fields of technology and finance. In 2010, China UnionPay (CUP) launched credit card operations in Brunei. In February 2014, the China Securities Regulatory Commission signed Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Securities and Futures Regulatory Cooperation with the Monetary Authority of Brunei Darussalam. At the end of 2016, the Bank of China (BOC) (Hong Kong) opened its first branch in Brunei to facilitate financial cooperation between the two countries. In 2014, the Brunei branch of Huawei, a Chinabased multinational telecommunications company, successfully won a bid for a 3G network renovation project of Progresif Cellular at a contracted value of 17.2 million Brunei dollars (US$13.2 million).

In the future, the two countries should continue their joint efforts to promote development of China-Brunei and ChinaASEAN relations, actively strengthen synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and Brunei Vision 2035 and upgrade bilateral relations to new heights.

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