UK minister lauds robust relations with Brunei

|     James Kon     |


THE British Army Gurkha Battalion troops’ presence in Brunei Darussalam is of great importance and a living proof of the strong relationship between Brunei and Britain at the military level.

This was highlighted by United Kingdom’s (UK) Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Field during an interview session to conclude his three-day visit to the Sultanate.

“I am delighted as we were able to sign an extension for the Gurkha battalion to remain in Brunei Darussalam for another five years. We hope that 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 will feel that the Gurkhas’ presence here will remain as important as ever in an increasingly uncertain world. This is the living proof of the strong relationship between Brunei and Britain at the military level,” he noted.

Describing the ties between Brunei and Britain, he said, “It’s a very good and healthy relationship. My father was here at the time when the Malaya Federation was falling apart in the early 1960s which was a threat for Brunei’s independence. This has led to our strong alliance. Brunei continued to be an important player and respected member of ASEAN. Both Brunei and Britain have strong connection at the highest level of the royal families that are very close. But, our people-to-people relations are also very strong. So many young Bruneians were able to study in the UK and learn about our country and I would like to see more Britons learn about Brunei and what Brunei has to offer,” he said.

Recalling his meeting with His Majesty, he revealed, “We spoke a bit about the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London earlier this year which His Majesty attended. I also explained about my background, informing His Majesty that my father served in the British army in Singapore in 1962. He was a young captain in the Gurkha regiment. He was involved in foiling the uprising which led to our strong cooperation. We also talked about our defence alliance. I am very grateful to His Majesty for granting me the audience. His Majesty is very much engaged in an array of international affairs as well as realises the importance of bolstering the relations between our countries. I hope that our relationship will go from strength to strength.”

United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Field. – JAMES KON

Touching on the concerns regarding Brexit, the UK minister acknowledged that it is causing uncertainty not only for Brunei, but also other ASEAN member states that have strong commercial links with the United Kingdom.

“We will make sure that we do everything to strengthen our commercial relationship with Southeast Asia. It is the responsibility of the UK Government to ensure a satisfactory Brexit deal that benefits our economy and helps us maintain our strong connection across the globe.”

Touching on cooperation in the financial sector including the establishment of Brunei’s stock market, he said, “I hope that Brunei will continue to work with us in the areas of asset management and financial technology as well as to establish a robust corporate governance system in place.

“Singapore is a huge financial centre and capital market in the region. Brunei could present itself as an alternative, providing a smaller and less crowded platform for investors to enter the Southeast Asia market. This could be a real opportunity. The real issue is ensuring capacity building before the establishment of a stock exchange,” the minister said.

Touching on protectionist policies practised by some countries, he commented, “I grew up at a time when the case has been made for free trade. Free market and capitalism should be allowed to grow. Fair trade benefits the most vulnerable and poverty-stricken people across the globe. Look at China – there were hundreds of millions of people living below the poverty line, and now many are thriving with free trade.”

Summing up his visit to Brunei, Field said, “It was indeed a lovely trip. I can’t wait to come back. Unfortunately, as a Foreign Office minister, I have to represent a big part of the world, so I can’t promise I can be back very soon. I had a tremendous time here attending several bilateral meetings as well as seeing how Brunei is progressing. My message to my Foreign Office colleagues and fellow parliamentarians is to keep an eye on Brunei and on the tremendous relationship we share. Let’s ensure this goes from strength to strength.”