Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Little Brunei welcomes China’s big helping hand

Chinese leader Xi Jinping's visit to the oil-rich sultanate highlighted Beijing's assistance to the nation's economic diversification plan to reduce reliance on hydrocarbons

Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first official visit to Brunei this week, a diplomatic tour that underscored blossoming bilateral ties as the oil-rich sultanate pursues economic diversification plans to reduce its oil dependency. The tiny Muslim majority nation has been a key recipient of multi-billion dollar investments for China-backed projects in recent years.

Xi’s visit represented the first by a Chinese leader to the country in 13 years. China’s big-ticket investments have recently become a source of controversy elsewhere in Southeast Asia, with rising complaints Beijing’s checkbook diplomacy ultimately aims to ensnare strategically important regional countries into sovereignty-eroding “debt traps” through lop-sided and often opaque financing deals.

With a heavy reliance on the energy sector and a population of just 420,000 situated on two territorial enclaves in Malaysian Borneo, some view Brunei as especially susceptible to a so-called Chinese debt trap. Yet there are few outward signs of unease or compelling indications to suggest the sultanate is being strong-armed into unfavorable deals.

Even as Brunei moves to strategically orientate itself as an important link in China’s US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it has simultaneously deepened its robust and long-standing defense ties with the United States, seen in recent joint naval drills in the South China Sea – where Brunei and China have competing claims to islets and atolls.

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