Amid South China Sea churn, India, Brunei to sign defence pact

VP Ansari Brunei visit

Air India One/Bandar Seri Begawan: India’s Act East policy is poised to acquire a greater strategic orientation, with Asia’s second largest economy set to sign its first defence pact with the oil-rich state of Brunei, which is increasingly looking at New Delhi as a balancer in the region.

The defence pact is expected to be signed after talks between India’s Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Brunei’s Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei, on February 2.  He will have an audience with Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and speak at the University of Brunei Darussalam.

Mr Ansari began a two-nation visit on February 1 to Brunei and Thailand, the two ASEAN countries with which India is looking to step up defence and strategic ties in months to come.

India’s Act East policy has acquired more depth and content, said Mr Ansari in a mid-air interaction with journalists aboard Air India One on February 1. Alluding to the upgrade of India’s Look East policy to Act East under the new dispensation in New Delhi, Mr Ansari stressed that the country’s engagement with Southeast Asian countries is increasing, both economically and strategically. It envisages building strong relations with the ASEAN as a bloc as well as with ASEAN countries, said Mr Ansari.    

The defence cooperation pact with Brunei envisages India’s support to training of the sultanate’s defence personnel, providing fishing boats, coastal vessels and help in upgrading maritime infrastructure.

ASEAN geopolitics: India as balancer

VP Thailand-Brunei visit

The sultanate of Brunei is perhaps the least assertive of the five ASEAN countries which lay claims to parts or whole of the resource-rich South China Sea, with Brunei’s monarch advocating the resolution of the territorial dispute peacefully through dialogue and consultation in line with international law. However, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah is looking to diversify Brunei’s network of external relationships against the backdrop of increasing sovereignty assertions by China over the South China Sea. Brunei has robust relations with the US, China and Japan, and is now looking at India as a sort of balancing Asian power in the region.  

Besides the defence pact, India and Brunei will also sign pacts on health and sports and youth exchanges to expand the web of people-to-people contacts.

Energy Security

Brunei is also set to play a more significant role in India’s energy security. India’s imports of oil from Brunei amount to around $1 billion. Brunei is expected to produce 3.5 billion barrels of oil by 2035. Against this backdrop, India is planning to scale up oil imports from Brunei and is looking to forge a hydrocarbon partnership encompassing both the upstream and the downstream hydrocarbons sector. The vice-president indicated that India is looking to replicate the joint fertilizer venture with Oman by making use of Brunei’s gas locally. We are exploring the possibility of using gas locally to set up a fertilizer plan in Brunei, said Mr Ansari.

In Thailand, too, bolstering defence and counter-terror cooperation will be high on the agenda, Mr Ansari indicated. Thailand has been quite responsive to our requests (for counter-terror cooperation), said the vice-president. The extradition of Thai national and gunrunner Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich alias Willy Naru, accused of brokering arms deals between insurgents in the North-East and Chinese suppliers, last year was a major breakthrough for India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The defence industry collaboration between India and Thailand is expected to boost the Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. Measures to enhance collaboration in maritime security, piracy, human trafficking and smuggling are also high on the agenda.

(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network,, a portal and e-magazine focused on international affairs and the India Story. He is part of the media delegation accompanying Vice-President Hamid Ansari to Brunei and Thailand)

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.