Sunday, 18 March 2018

China throws sinking Brunei a lifeline

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah looks to Beijing for succor as his nation's oil and gas reserves run dry

Brunei's ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is in a race against time as his nation’s once deep stores of oil and gas rapidly run dry. While other foreign investors up stakes, China is giving the Southeast Asian sultanate a new lease on economic life.

International banks such as HSBC and Citibank have recently ceased operations in Brunei in sight of its contracting oil and gas business, driven down by years of depressed global energy prices. But one major financial institution has filled the vacuum: Bank of China (BOC).

BOC established a branch in Brunei in 2016 to facilitate Beijing’s foreign direct investments. Yang Jian, China’s ambassador to Brunei, last year described the sultanate as an important node in the US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), President Xi Jinping’s signature continental and maritime infrastructure development initiative.

Some observers believe China intends to leverage its major investments and close political ties with Brunei’s ruler to sway the country’s stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where the sultanate is also a rival claimant. That, they say, would deter other Southeast Asian claimants from reaching consensus on the issue.

“China is placing huge pressure on Brunei to concede ‘joint development’ in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These are rights that clearly belong to Brunei by any reading of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” says Bill Hayton, associate fellow at the Asia-Pacific Program at Chatham House.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at

Friday, 9 March 2018

‘Kleptocracy at its worst’ in Malaysia

So says US Attorney General Jeff Sessions as global investigators seize assets and tighten dragnet on premier Najib Razak's 1MDB scandal

“Kleptocracy at its worst” is how US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently characterized dealings at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a heavily indebted state development fund currently under investigation for fraud by the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

The fund, created and until recently oversaw by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, has been at the center of ongoing embezzlement probes in multiple countries since 2015. But while the embattled premier plays down the evolving scandal in an election campaign season, new overseas asset seizures are keeping it in the headlines.

Investigators believe US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund by high-ranking Malaysian officials and their associates since 2009, making it one of the world’s largest ever financial fraud cases and the biggest action ever brought under the DoJ’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

Najib, believed to be the unnamed “Official 1” in the DoJ’s ongoing case, has avoided scrutiny and charges at home by sacking critics, including his former deputy, appointing an attorney general who has exonerated him of all wrongdoing, and clamping down on probing media.

The premier has consistently denied involvement in any corruption and claimed the US$681 million discovered in his personal bank accounts was a “gift” from a Saudi royal family member rather than pilfered 1MDB funds.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at