Brunei, Japan boost trade, defence ties

|     Hakim Hayat     |


JAPAN signalled its commitment to boost cooperation with long-time partner, Brunei Darussalam, in terms of its economic diversification efforts and other areas of potential collaboration, following a high-level meeting yesterday between officials from both countries.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II, Dato Seri Paduka Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof, hosted a lunch at the Radisson Hotel for the visiting Japanese Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, where both sides shared views and discussed ways of bolstering mutual cooperation.

Also present at the meeting was the Minister of Defence II, Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awang Halbi bin Haji Mohd Yussof.

During the meeting, Kono underscored Japan’s expectations for further technical cooperation, to assist with Brunei’s efforts in economic diversification.

Following the meeting, the Deputy Press Secretary at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Toshihide Ando, gave a press conference, in which he said the agreement, which is still in negotiation stages, will involve cost-sharing technical cooperation.

From left: Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awang Halbi bin Haji Mohd Yussof, Minister of Defence II with Taro Kono, Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister and Dato Seri Paduka Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II during the Asean handshake. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II hosted a lunch for the visiting Japanese Foreign Minister, where both sides shared views and discussed ways of bolstering mutual cooperation. – JAMES KON

Ando added that during the meeting, the Japanese Foreign Minister expressed hope for an early signing of the technical cooperation agreement.

At the cornerstone of Japan-Brunei bilateral relations is the extensive cooperation in the energy field, where Japan remains Brunei’s largest trading partner in the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the steady inflow of investments from Japanese companies in the energy sector.

“Japan would like to deepen the collaboration and strengthen extensive cooperation with Brunei, which now serves as Asean’s coordinating country for Japan, during the 45th anniversary of Asean-Japan Friendship and Cooperation this year,” said Kono during the meeting.

Both sides also agreed to expand defence exchange cooperation, as well as negotiations to resume direct flights between Japan and Brunei for the first time since 1998.

During the meeting, Kono also spoke about Japan’s ambitious new ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’, where he emphasised the significance of Brunei and other Asean member countries for the promotion of the strategy, being geographically located to connect the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

Dato Seri Paduka Awang Haji Erywan, in this regard, said his commitment for deeper understanding towards the direction of that strategy, and continued cooperation with Japan.

The Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, launched by the Japanese government in late 2017, comes with three key objectives – to promote and establish the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, rule of law (freedom of navigation) and a market economy; to pursue economic prosperity through improved connectivity, among others; and to secure peace and stability.

As Brunei strives to diversify its economy, it is also hoped that it can leverage on the policy, which aims to connect two continents and two oceans to effectuate a free and open Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, through improved connectivity between Asia and Africa.

Both sides also re-affirmed their commitment in promoting free trade in the region, by encouraging the now revived Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement to come into force earlier, while also promoting strong cooperation for a swift and high-quality Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal with signatory countries.

Both sides also discussed on issues pertaining to North Korea, where both foreign ministers agreed on applying maximum pressure on North Korea, including the enforcement of the United Nations’ Security Council resolutions.

Ando said despite what seems to be thawing of strained relations between South Korea and North Korea as witnessed in the past week, the threat of North Korea’s nuclear proliferation still remains, towards peace and security of the region and the international arena.

This is the first visit in five years by a Japanese Foreign Minister to Brunei, who throughout his one-day visit, also called at the Muara Commercial Port to meet with the crew of the visiting Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Overseas Training Cruise.

The JMSDF cruise ships JS Sawagiri, JS Yamagiri and JS Yamayuki will be docked at the port during a current goodwill visit until February 14, during which the crew will take part in sporting activities, a ship tour with Royal Brunei Navy officers and a beach clean-up at Muara.