Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the bilateral relationship between Brunei Darussalam and the People’s Republic of China has been strengthening without much disruption.
The growing importance of the bilateral relationship between the two countries is also part of the ambitious Chinese initiative called One Belt One Road (OBOR). Introduced by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, OBOR aims to connect countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Noting that OBOR will be playing a significant role in strengthening bilateral ties, the Brunei-China One Belt One Road Association was established in late 2018, led by Jackson Ting as President. During the swearing-in ceremony, several memoranda of understanding were signed on cooperation in the field of education, innovation and technology.
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Brunei Darussalam Yu Hong in a message on the OBOR initiative said the initiative has received a positive response from the international community.
“Up to September 2020, China has so far signed 200 cooperation agreements with 138 countries and 30 international organisations for jointly advancing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The initiative has become the world’s largest platform for international cooperation, playing an increasingly important role in promoting world development and prosperity.
“Brunei Darussalam is a friendly neighbour across the sea for China as well as an important link along the ancient Maritime Silk Road. The Chinese government upholds the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and promotes synergy between the BRI and Vision 2035, Brunei’s economic diversification strategy,” she said.
The ambassador noted that in 2017, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam paid a state visit to China.
The two sides signed the memorandum of understanding for cooperation on the BRI.
During President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Brunei in 2018, the two sides signed a cooperation plan on BRI. In April 2019, His Majesty attended the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. “The two leaders reached consensus on strengthening cooperation,” the envoy highlighted.
In addition, she affirmed that the communication mechanisms between the two countries have constantly been improved. “In January 2020, the inaugural meeting of the Joint Steering Committee between China and Brunei Darussalam was held in Beijing.
“In March, Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a phone call with Minister of Foreign Affairs II of Brunei Darussalam Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof, and both sides exchanged views on deepening cooperation in the context of the epidemic. Under the framework of China-ASEAN cooperation, ministerial-level mechanisms in areas such as trade, communication and health have played an active role in promoting economic recovery,” she said.
Connectivity cooperation between the two sides has also been enhanced. Direct flights between the two capitals were launched, and China supports Brunei’s vision to turn Muara Port into a development hub of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).
China hopes to work closely with Brunei to promote the Guangxi-Brunei Economic Corridor as a dual demonstration project for China-BIMP-EAGA cooperation and the New Land-Sea Corridor.
Chinese companies have been actively participating in Brunei’s infrastructure construction, contributing to the improvement of local connectivity. These projects include the Pulau Muara Besar Bridge, the Telisai-Lumut Highway and the Ulu Tutong Dam, among others.
The Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Bridge, the longest cross-sea bridge in Southeast Asia and co-constructed by one Chinese company, has become a new symbol of Brunei’s modernisation. In terms of trade and investment between the two sides, the ambassador noted that there has been a significant increase.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, the trade volume between Brunei and China increased by 95.2 per cent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2020. The full operation of major projects such as Hengyi Pulau Muara Besar and Muara Port has contributed not only to the expansion of the downstream petrochemical industry, but also to the improvement of port operation efficiency, as well as the increase in local employment.
The bilateral financial integration channel has also been widening. Brunei is one of the founding nations of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). In 2016, Bank of China established a branch in Brunei, offering its excellent financial services to promote Brunei’s economic development.
To accelerate the integrated construction of the regional economy, China has set up China-ASEAN Investment Cooperation Fund, and earmarked a special fund for China-BIMP-EAGA cooperation. The ambassador highlighted, “The mutual understanding between the people’s of both countries has been deepening. In 2019, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Brunei has reached 74,511, making China Brunei’s second largest source of foreign tourists. During the pandemic, the two people’s helped and supported each other, further deepening the friendship. With the joint efforts of China and Brunei, the BRI has been blossoming over the years, promoting the development of China-Brunei relations.”
Meanwhile, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah during the Economic Forum ‘Mutual Support & Overcoming Challenges Together’ organised by the Chinese Enterprises Association in Brunei (CEAB) in October 2020 commended the CEAB for providing training to ensure Brunei’s workforce is job-ready and wellequipped with industry skills.
He also thanked CEAB members for providing business opportunities to the local micro, small and medium enterprises and job opportunities to local Bruneians. The economic forum was held at the Bank of China (Hong Kong) Brunei Branch in Kampong Kiarong.
The OBOR initiative will continue to play a significant role in the bilateral relationship in 2021 when China and Brunei celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
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