Wawasan 2035 & China

Brunei’s vision for the future is captured in Wawasan 2035. This aims to maintain political stability in Brunei Darussalam, preserve social, cultural, spiritual and historic values, help Bruneians meet practical challenges of the modern world successfully and give families and communities confidence in the future. The thirteen strategies identified are:

  1. Education
  2. Economy 
  3. Security
  4. Institutional development
  5. Local business development
  6. Infrastructure development
  7. Social security
  8. Environment
  9. Health
  10. Religion
  11. Land-use
  12. Infrastructure and info-communication technology
  13. Manpower planning

With an estimated population of 444,000, Brunei is presently facing a sluggish economy, much to the frustration of its citizens. Its oil and gas reserves that were heavily relied on, for government expenditure are projected to be depleted in the next twenty years. Youth unemployment is on the rise and the Sultan is attempting to diversify his economy as rapidly as possible. Presently, migration to and from Brunei is negligible. But this could change in the future. China has initiated a long-term partnership with this small state. It is now Brunei’s largest source of foreign direct investment.

Perceived as a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship, Brunei has pledged its continued support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); and China has committed to assisting in economic diversification, working towards a minimal reliance on oil and gas. The Bank of China (BOC) opened its first branch in Brunei in 2016, while HSBC and Citibank pulled out of the sultanate. China’s Hengyi Group has invested $3.4 billion dollars in the construction of a complex in Muara Besar island. Cooperation in trade and investment, aquaculture and agriculture has strengthened. The Brunei-Guangxi Economic Corridor, another massive project, involves more than $500 million of investment.

These projects are expected to create more than 10,000 jobs. Bruneian employment could have received a boost if not for the thousands of Chinese from China filling available positions. Frustration among the sultanate’s citizenry is intensifying. Brunei has the potential for much more investment in human capital and much more development via a diversified portfolio of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This will take time. Strong ties with China increase the possibility of outmigration in the long-term, due to increased development and widened connectivity (via the BRI). The possibility of more migrant inflow cannot be ruled out, especially if the sultanate thrives as a result of a diversified economy.

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