President Xi Jinping’s visit an exceptional moment in Brunei-China relations

THE visit by the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping to Brunei marked an exceptional moment in Brunei-China history as the relations between the two nations continue to fortify in this ever-changing global economy.

The 21st Century brings with it complexities and uncertainties that require Brunei to understandably work with big power states to survive and thrive in the decades to come. Xi Jinping’s visit marked a special moment because Brunei is more confident that it has a highly committed and serious partner to work with to weather the effects of a changing global environment.

The contribution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to this country should not be understated. The investments, technological transfer, trade, and tourists China bring as well as the existing Chinese business community operating in Brunei have paved way for Brunei’s economic growth not just in the past but in the continued future.

In addition, there are many specialists that China can bring into Brunei to unlock its growth potential. Experts in the concepts of Special Economic Zones, Urban Development, Entrepreneurship and Economic Reforms, among many, which have made China into one of the fastest growing and largest economies, should be something that Bruneian scholars and policy-makers could learn form.

A wise man once said that we need to learn knowledge as far as China. Even Sultan Bolkiah, the 5th Sultan of Brunei advised Bruneians to travel abroad to seek new knowledge and implement best practices to develop the nation. To transform Brunei into a highly advanced and technologically superior economy is indeed possible, therefore, if we are willing to learn and apply the knowledge we could secure from China.

We can also borrow technology and capital from the People’s Republic of China to make our industrial sectors more productive and profitable. These sectors include agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, and other non-oil and gas industries.

We will have plenty of access to secure consultants and experts from China, for instance, to transform Brunei’s urban sphere. One can only Google old pictures of Shanghai’s Pudong financial district in 1987 and compare it today. From a backwater-port over 30 years ago, the district has turned into a world-class financial hub that homes China’s stock exchange and top financial institutions.

Imagine a special zone is carved out in the heart of the capital with the vision to make it into a top ASEAN city centre. It would only take less than 10 years or so to turn Bandar Seri Begawan’s (BSB) skyline comparable to a mini-Singapore or mini-Qatar with China’s help.

Quartz website reported that the Chinese city of Shenzen has successfully built more skyscrapers in 2016 than the US and Australia combined. Just imagine the possibility of developing BSB with their expertise.

The emergence and involvement of Brunei into trade and strategic pacts such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Belt and Silk Road Initiative are further evidence of the closer integration of Brunei with China. The BND20 billion petrochemical plant Hengyi project will also help bolster Brunei’s economic growth and provide thousands of jobs for locals.

As the ties of Brunei and China grow, so too will its future destiny be inexorably linked, if it has not already. As China rejuvenates and takes on the mantle of global economic leadership, so too Brunei can grow through more joint-partnerships, cross-FDIs, and trade being continually fostered by both countries.

There are three identified areas that should be looked into by the relevant ministries, especially with regard to further developing Brunei in tandem with China’s rise:

First, the government has to continue China’s Fortune Land Development International or CFLD (Singapore) Investment Pte Ltd joint-partnership with Darussalam Assets to shape Brunei’s coastal areas namely Jerudong and Tungku into ‘world-class economic hubs’.

Next, Brunei should make it easier for citizens of PRC to get work and/or tourist visas as well to streamline the registration of business licenses to work and/or set up joint ventures with local partners here in Brunei.

The country should also work to intensify cultural exchange programmes between the two peoples. Bruneians should be exposed to the environment in China and vice versa. These things could help further promote inter-cultural understanding, harmony and respect between the two peoples.

The historical link between China and Brunei, after all, has existed for more than 600 years.

We must not forget the contribution of Ong Sum Ping (Huang Senping) for defending Brunei against pirates in the past, the famous visit by Admiral Zheng He to Brunei, and the help the Chinese people gave to the local generation who lived through World War II.

Their contribution in the war effort was highly recognised and appreciated especially by late Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam.

Even today, the descendants of the people who migrated from China to Brunei continue to contribute to the economy and society.

A relatively huge proportionate of them hold professional positions, such as accountants, doctors, engineers, consultants, architects and marketing executives. Moreover, the businesses they set up help generate local jobs and tax revenues for the economy.

Let us continue to foster the spirit of harmony, respect and good ties between the peoples living and working in Brunei while working towards the development of the common goal in transforming Brunei’s future. That is the definition of inclusive development.

Overall, the presence of President Xi Jinping in Brunei marks as a historical legacy that will be written in the history books as a step closer to forging and strengthening ties between the two nations. It would be great then if Brunei looks into various domains of partnership and continues its policy to be inclusive in its efforts to transform the nation to achieve Vision 2035 and to prepare the country for the post-oil era.

– Abdul Malik Omar