Brunei country profile Update 04/24/2024 

Brunei Flag

Brunei, officially known as Brunei Darussalam, is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia Update 04/24/2024  

It is surrounded entirely by the Malaysian state of Sarawak and is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang. Brunei is the only sovereign state that occupies the entirety of Borneo, with the rest of the island divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Brunei map
Brunei map

The country has a population of approximately 460,345 people as of 2020, with around 100,000 residing in its capital and largest city, Bandar Seri Begawan. Brunei is an absolute monarchy, with its Sultan, titled the Yang di-Pertuan, serving as the head of state. The legal system combines English common law, sharia law, and general Islamic practices.

During the height of the Bruneian Empire, Sultan Bolkiah, who reigned from 1485 to 1528, claimed control over vast regions of Borneo, including present-day Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the Sulu Archipelago and the islands off the northwest tip of Borneo.

There are also claims of Bruneian control over Seludong, which some Southeast Asian scholars believe refers to a settlement called Mount Selurong in Indonesia.

The Spanish Magellan Expedition visited the maritime state of Brunei in 1521, and there was a conflict between Brunei and Spain in the 1578 Castilian War.

In the 19th century, the Bruneian Empire began to decline. The Sultanate ceded Sarawak to James Brooke, who became the White Rajah, and it also ceded Sabah to the British North Borneo Chartered Company.

Brunei became a British protectorate in 1888 and had a British resident as a colonial manager from 1906. After the Japanese occupation during World War II, a new constitution was written in 1959. In 1962, a small armed rebellion against the monarchy was quelled with British assistance.

Since 1967, Brunei has been led by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. The country gained independence from British protection on January 1, 1984. Brunei is an autocratic absolute monarchy.

Economic growth during the 1990s and 2000s, fueled by the expansion of the petroleum and natural gas industry, transformed Brunei into an industrialized nation.

The country has a high standard of living and ranks second in the Human Development Index among Southeast Asian nations, following Singapore. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Brunei has the fifth-highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity. As of 2011, the IMF estimated that Brunei, along with Libya, had a public debt of 0% of the national GDP.

Etymology Update 04/24/2024 

According to local historiography, Brunei was founded by Awang Alak Betatar, later known as Sultan Muhammad Shah, around AD 1400.

He moved from Garang in the Temburong District to the estuary of the Brunei River, where he discovered Brunei. Legend has it that upon landing, he exclaimed, “Baru nah” (loosely translated as “that’s it!” or “there”), which eventually gave the name “Brunei” to the region.

Etymology
Etymology

Sultan Muhammad Shah became the first Muslim ruler of Brunei. It is believed that before the rise of the Bruneian Empire under the Muslim Bolkiah Dynasty, Brunei was ruled by Buddhist rulers.

In the 14th century, Brunei was renamed “Barunai,” possibly influenced by the Sanskrit word “varuṇ,” meaning “seafarers.” The word “Borneo” has a similar origin.

The country’s full name, Negara Brunei Darussalam, incorporates the term “darussalam” (Arabic: دار السلام), which means “abode of peace” in Arabic, while “negara” means “country” in Malay. The shortened version of the official Malay name, “Brunei Darussalam,” is commonly used, particularly in official contexts. It is also recognized in the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names database, as well as in official listings of ASEAN and the Commonwealth.

The earliest recorded Western documentation about Brunei was made by an Italian traveler named Ludovico di Varthema in 1550. He described Brunei as an island larger than the Maluch (presumably referring to the Maluku Islands) and populated by pagans who were kind-hearted. He noted that the people of Brunei had a fairer complexion compared to others. Varthema also observed that justice was well administered on the island.

This historical information provides insights into the origins and early accounts of Brunei, shedding light on its cultural and political development over the centuries.

History Update 04/24/2024  

Early history

According to historical accounts, the settlement known as Vijayapura was a vassal-state to the Buddhist Srivijaya empire and is believed to have thrived in the 7th century. It was located in Borneo’s Northwest. Arabic sources referred to this alternative Srivijaya as “Sribuza.” In the year 800, the Arabic author Al Ya’akubi recorded that the kingdom of Musa (Muja, which is old Brunei) was in alliance with the kingdom of Mayd (either Ma-i or Madja-as in the Philippines) in a war against the Chinese Empire.

History

History
History

Following the Indian Chola invasion of Srivijaya, Datu Puti led a rebellion against Rajah Makatunao, a Chola-appointed local ruler or descendant of Seri Maharajah, and tried to revive Srivijaya in a new country called Madja-as in the Visayas region of the Philippines. According to a Spanish-era recording by Augustinian Friar Rev. Fr. Santaren, the dissidents and their followers established many towns in Panay and Southern Luzon. Rajah Makatunao, also known as “the sultan of the Moros,” seized the properties and riches of the ten datus (leaders), but he was eventually killed by warriors named Labaodungon and Paybare. They learned about the injustice from their father-in-law, Paiburong, and sailed to Odtojan in Borneo, where Makatunaw ruled. They sacked the city, killed Makatunaw and his family, reclaimed the stolen properties of the ten datus, enslaved the remaining population of Odtojan, and sailed back to Panay. Labaw Donggon and his wife, Ojaytanayon, later settled in a place called Moroboro.

One of the earliest Chinese records of an independent kingdom in Borneo is a letter dated 977 AD from the ruler of Boni to the Chinese emperor, which some scholars believe refers to Borneo. The Bruneians regained their independence from Srivijaya due to a Javanese-Sumatran war. In 1225, the Chinese official Zhao Rukuo reported that Boni had 100 warships to protect its trade and that the kingdom was wealthy. Marco Polo mentioned in his memoirs that the Great Khan, ruler of the Mongol Empire, attempted multiple times to invade “Great Java,” which was the European name for Bruneian-controlled Borneo. However, further citations are needed to support this claim.

In the 1300s, the Chinese annals, Nanhai zhi, reported that Brunei invaded or administered various regions, including Sarawak and Sabah, as well as several Philippine kingdoms such as Butuan, Sulu, Ma-i (Mindoro), Malilu (present-day Manila), Shahuchong (present-day Siocon or Zamboanga), Yachen (Part of the Madja-as Kedatuan), and Wenduling (present-day Mindanao). These territories would later regain their independence.

In the 14th century, the Javanese manuscript Nagarakretagama, written by Prapanca in 1365, mentioned Barune as a constituent state of the Hindu Majapahit Empire. Barune was required to pay an annual tribute of 40 katis of camphor to Majapahit. In 1369, Sulu, which was also previously part of Majapahit, successfully rebelled and attacked Boni, subsequently invading the Northeast Coast of Borneo and looting the capital. Majapahit’s fleet eventually drove away the Sulus, but Boni was left weaker after the attack. A Chinese report from 1371 described Boni as poor and completely controlled by Majapahit.

These historical accounts provide insights into the complex political dynamics, alliances, and conflicts in the region during ancient times, involving Srivijaya, Brunei, the Chola Empire, Majapahit, and various other kingdoms and states.

During the 15th century, Boni (Borneo) seceded from the Majapahit Empire and embraced Islam, becoming the independent Sultanate of Brunei. The sultanate reached its peak power between the 15th and 17th centuries, with its influence extending from northern Borneo to the southern Philippines (Sulu) and even into the northern Philippines (Manila) through territorial acquisitions achieved through royal marriages. It is important to note that while there were close familial ties between the rulers of Maynila (Manila) and the Sultanate of Brunei, Brunei’s influence over Maynila was not military or politically dominant. Intermarriage was a common strategy for maritime states like Brunei to expand their influence, and it helped local rulers strengthen their claims to nobility.

Sultan Bolkiah, one of the notable rulers of Brunei, expanded its power by conquering Manila and Sulu. He also attempted but failed to conquer the Visayas islands, although he himself had Visayan ancestry through his mother and was known as Sultan Ragam or “The Singing Captain” due to his inherited musical talents from his Visayan lineage. Brunei faced a Hindu rival in the south, the state of Kutai, founded by Indians, which Brunei overpowered but did not destroy.

Brunei’s dominance in the Philippines faced challenges from two Indianized kingdoms, the Rajahanates of Cebu and Butuan, which were allied with Kutai and engaged in conflicts with Brunei’s dependencies, such as Sulu and Manila, as well as their mutual ally, the Sultanate of Maguindanao. The Kedatuans of Madja-as and Dapitan also opposed Brunei due to constant Muslim attacks organized from Maguindanao and Ternate, a Papuan-speaking state in the vicinity of Oceania that gained wealth through spice monopolization.

By the 16th century, Islam had firmly taken root in Brunei, and the country had constructed one of its largest mosques. In 1578, Alonso Beltrán, a Spanish traveler, described the mosque as being five stories tall and built on water.

These historical accounts highlight the expansion of Brunei’s power, its engagement in territorial acquisitions through royal marriages, and its encounters with Hindu and Indianized kingdoms in the region, as well as its consolidation of Islam as the dominant religion within its territory.

War with Spain and decline Update 04/24/2024  

During the 16th century, Brunei experienced a significant rise in prominence in Southeast Asia due to various historical events. The Portuguese occupation of Malacca forced Muslim refugees, who were wealthy and powerful, to seek refuge in nearby Sultanates like Aceh and Brunei. In response to a territorial conflict between the Hindu kingdom of Tondo and the Muslim kingdom of Manila in the Philippines, the Bruneian Sultan appointed Rajah Ache of Manila, who had Bruneian descent, as the admiral of the Bruneian navy. This move aimed to support Bruneian interests and rival Tondo’s influence.

It was during this time that the Magellan expedition encountered Brunei. Antonio Pigafetta, a member of the expedition, noted that under the orders of his grandfather, the Sultan of Brunei, Rajah Ache had previously sacked the Buddhist city of Loue in Southwest Borneo due to its adherence to the old religion and rebellion against the authority of the Sultanate.

However, European influence gradually diminished Brunei’s regional power, leading to a period of decline exacerbated by internal conflicts over royal succession.

In response to invasions by European Christian powers, the Ottoman Caliphate provided assistance to the beleaguered Southeast Asian Sultanates.

Aceh, in particular, became a protectorate of the Ottomans, who sent expeditions to reinforce, train, and equip the local mujahideen. Turks were known to migrate to Brunei, as indicated by complaints from Manila Oidor Melchor Davalos in his 1585 report, which stated that Turks were arriving in Sumatra, Borneo, and Ternate every year, including defeated veterans from the Battle of Lepanto. The presence of Turks assisting Brunei against Habsburg Spain connected the subsequent Castille War to the larger Ottoman-Habsburg wars.

In 1578, Spain declared war and planned to attack Kota Batu, the capital of Brunei. Two Bruneian noblemen, Pengiran Seri Lela and Pengiran Seri Ratna, supported the Spanish and offered Brunei as a tributary in exchange for help in recovering the throne usurped by Saiful Rijal, the ruling sultan’s brother. A Spanish fleet arrived from Mexico and organized an expedition from Manila to Brunei. The campaign involved a diverse Christian force comprising Spaniards, Mexicans, Filipino natives, and Borneans, while the Muslim side also consisted of a racially diverse group, including Malays, Turks, Egyptians, Swahilis, Somalis, Sindhis, Gujaratis, and Malabars.

The Spanish, with the assistance of Pengiran Seri Lela and Pengiran Seri Ratna, invaded Brunei’s capital in April 1578, causing destruction and suffering to the population. However, due to a cholera or dysentery outbreak and high fatalities, the Spanish decided to abandon Brunei and returned to Manila in June 1578. Before leaving, they burned the mosque, a prominent structure with a five-tier roof.

Pengiran Seri Lela died around the same time, potentially from the same illness as his Spanish allies. His daughter, a Bruneian princess named “Putri,” had left with the Spanish and later abandoned her claim to the crown to marry a Christian Tagalog named Agustín de Legazpi de Tondo. Agustin de Legaspi and his associates were later implicated in the Conspiracy of the Maharlikas, an attempt by Filipinos to collaborate with the Brunei Sultanate and Japanese Shogunate to expel the Spaniards from the Philippines. Following the suppression of the conspiracy by the Spanish, the Bruneian-descended aristocracy of precolonial Manila were exiled to Guerrero, Mexico, which later became a center of the Mexican war of independence against Spain.

Accounts of the Castilian War (as it is known) in local Bruneian history differ from the generally accepted view of events. These accounts portray the war as a heroic episode, with the Spaniards being driven out by Bendahara Sakam, purportedly a brother of the ruling sultan, and a thousand native warriors. However, most historians consider this to be a folk-hero account that likely developed decades or centuries later.

Brunei eventually descended into anarchy and suffered a civil war from 1660 to 1673, further contributing to its period of decline.

British intervention Update 04/24/2024  

In the 19th century, the British intervened in the affairs of Brunei on multiple occasions, leading to significant changes in the country’s political landscape. In July 1846, Britain attacked Brunei due to internal conflicts surrounding the rightful Sultan.

During the 1880s, the decline of the Bruneian Empire continued, and the Sultan granted land to James Brooke as a reward for helping quell a rebellion. This land eventually became the Raj of Sarawak, ruled by the Brooke family. Over time, the Brookes leased or annexed more land from Brunei, resulting in the loss of significant territory for the Sultanate.

Concerned about further encroachment by the Brookes, Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin appealed to the British for assistance. In response, the “Treaty of Protection” was negotiated by Sir Hugh Low and implemented on 17 September 1888. This treaty stipulated that the Sultan could not cede or lease any territory to foreign powers without British consent, effectively granting Britain control over Brunei’s external affairs. Brunei became a British protected state, a status that lasted until 1984.

However, when the Raj of Sarawak annexed Brunei’s Pandaruan District in 1890, the British did not intervene. This annexation left Brunei with its current small land mass, divided into two parts. The British did not consider the Raj of Sarawak as a foreign power, as per the Treaty of Protection, and therefore did not take action to prevent the annexation.

As part of the British influence in Brunei, British residents were introduced under the Supplementary Protectorate Agreement in 1906. These residents were tasked with advising the Sultan on administrative matters. Over time, the power and authority of the residents increased, eventually surpassing that of the Sultan. The residential system came to an end in 1959.

Discovery of oil 

In 1929, petroleum was discovered in Brunei after several unsuccessful attempts. F.F. Marriot and T.G. Cochrane noticed the smell of oil near the Seria river in late 1926 and reported it to a geophysicist who conducted a survey in the area. Gas seepages were then reported in 1927, leading to the drilling of Seria Well Number One (S-1) on July 12, 1928. On April 5, 1929, oil was struck at a depth of 297 meters (974 feet). Subsequently, Seria Well Number 2 was drilled on August 19, 1929, and it continues to produce oil to this day.

During the 1930s, the development of additional oil fields led to a significant increase in oil production. By 1940, oil production had reached over six million barrels. The British Malayan Petroleum Company, which is now known as Brunei Shell Petroleum Company, was established on July 22, 1922. The first offshore well was drilled in 1957.

Since the late 20th century, oil and natural gas have been the foundation of Brunei’s development and economic prosperity.

Japanese occupation Update 04/24/2024 

On December 16, 1941, just eight days after their attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Brunei. They landed a force of 10,000 troops from the Kawaguchi Detachment at Kuala Belait, coming from Cam Ranh Bay. After six days of fighting, the Japanese occupied the entire country. The only Allied troops present in the region were the 2nd Battalion of the 15th Punjab Regiment stationed in Kuching, Sarawak.

Once the Japanese took control of Brunei, they reached an agreement with Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin regarding the governance of the country. Inche Ibrahim, also known as Pehin Datu Perdana Menteri Dato Laila Utama Awang Haji Ibrahim, a former Secretary to the British Resident, Ernest Edgar Pengilly, was appointed as the Chief Administrative Officer under the Japanese Governor. The Japanese had proposed that Pengilly retain his position under their administration, but he declined. Pengilly and other British nationals remaining in Brunei were subsequently interned by the Japanese at Batu Lintang camp in Sarawak. Despite being under Japanese guard, Ibrahim personally shook hands with each British official and wished them well.

The Sultan retained his throne and received a pension and honors from the Japanese. During the later part of the occupation, he resided in Tantuya, Limbang, and had little involvement with the Japanese. Most of the Malay government officers were retained by the Japanese, and Brunei’s administration was reorganized into five prefectures, including British North Borneo. Ibrahim managed to hide numerous important government documents from the Japanese during the occupation. Pengiran Yusuf, later known as YAM Pengiran Setia Negara Pengiran Haji Mohd Yusuf, and other Bruneians were sent to Japan for training. Although Yusuf was present in the area on the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, he survived.

The British had anticipated a Japanese attack but lacked the resources to defend the area due to their involvement in the war in Europe. In September 1941, the troops from the Punjab Regiment filled the Seria oilfield oil wells with concrete to deny their use to the Japanese. The remaining equipment and installations were destroyed when the Japanese invaded Malaya. By the end of the war, 16 wells in Miri and Seria had been restarted, with production reaching about half of the pre-war level. Coal production at Muara was also resumed but with limited success.

During the Japanese occupation of Brunei, they implemented several changes and policies. Japanese language education was introduced in schools, and government officers were required to learn Japanese. The local currency was replaced with a currency known as “duit pisang” or banana money. However, hyperinflation caused by economic instability rendered this currency worthless by the end of the war.

The Japanese constructed an airport runway during their occupation, and in 1943, they stationed naval units in Brunei Bay and Labuan. Although the naval base was destroyed by Allied bombing, the airport runway survived and was later developed into a public airport.

In 1944, the Allies launched a bombing campaign against the occupying Japanese forces. While the bombings caused significant damage to the town and Kuala Belait, the water village of Kampong Ayer was largely spared from the attacks.

As the war progressed, Allied attacks on shipping disrupted trade, leading to shortages of food and medicine. The population of Brunei suffered from famine and disease as a result of these hardships.

On June 10, 1945, the Australian 9th Division launched Operation Oboe Six, which aimed to recapture Borneo from the Japanese. Under the operation, the 9th Division landed at Muara in Brunei with support from American air and naval units. Brunei town was heavily bombed, and after three days of intense fighting, it was recaptured by the Allied forces. The fighting resulted in significant destruction, including the mosque.

On September 10, 1945, the Japanese forces in Brunei, Borneo, and Sarawak, led by Lieutenant-General Masao Baba, formally surrendered at Labuan. Following the surrender, the British Military Administration assumed control from the Japanese and remained in Brunei until July 1946, overseeing the transition and rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of the war.

Post-World War II

After World War II, the British Military Administration (BMA) took charge of governing Brunei. The administration, consisting mainly of Australian officers and servicemen, worked towards rebuilding the Bruneian economy, which had suffered significant damage during the Japanese occupation. They also had to deal with the fires that were set on the Seria oil wells by the Japanese before their defeat.

In 1945, the administration of Brunei was transferred to the Civil Administration, and the Brunei State Council was revived. Prior to 1941, the duties of the British High Commissioner for Brunei, Sarawak, and North Borneo (now Sabah) were carried out by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, based in Singapore. The first British High Commissioner for Brunei was Sir Charles Ardon Clarke, the Governor of Sarawak.

The Barisan Pemuda (Youth Movement), abbreviated as BARIP, was the first political party formed in Brunei on April 12, 1946. BARIP aimed to protect the sovereignty of the Sultan and the country, as well as defend the rights of the Malays. The party also contributed to the creation of Brunei’s national anthem. However, BARIP became inactive and was dissolved in 1948.

In 1959, a new constitution was drafted, declaring Brunei a self-governing state. While Brunei gained internal self-government, the United Kingdom remained responsible for its foreign affairs, security, and defense. In 1962, a small rebellion known as the Brunei Revolt erupted against the monarchy but was suppressed with the help of the UK. This rebellion influenced the Sultan’s decision to opt out of joining the emerging state of Malaysia as part of the North Borneo Federation.

Brunei finally achieved independence from the United Kingdom on January 1, 1984. The country celebrates its independence on National Day, which is traditionally held on February 23.

Writing of the Constitution

In July 1953, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III established a committee called Tujuh Serangkai, consisting of seven members, to gather the opinions of Brunei’s citizens regarding the creation of a written constitution. In May 1954, the Sultan, the Resident, and the High Commissioner held a meeting to discuss the committee’s findings, and they agreed to authorize the drafting of a constitution. In March 1959, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III led a delegation to London to discuss the proposed constitution with the British government, led by Sir Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Eventually, the British government accepted the draft constitution.

On 29 September 1959, the Constitution Agreement was signed in Brunei Town. The agreement was signed by Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III and Sir Robert Scott, the Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia. The Constitution Agreement included the following provisions:

  1. The Sultan was designated as the Supreme Head of State.
  2. Brunei was granted responsibility for its internal administration.
  3. The British government retained responsibility for foreign and defense affairs only.
  4. The position of Resident was abolished and replaced by a British High Commissioner.
  5. Five councils were established: the Executive Council, the Legislative Council of Brunei, the Privy Council, the Council of Succession, and the State Religious Council.

National development plans

Under the leadership of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III, a series of National Development Plans were implemented in Brunei. The first plan was introduced in 1953, with a budget of B$100 million approved by the Brunei State Council. E.R. Bevington, from the Colonial Office in Fiji, was appointed to oversee its implementation. As part of the plan, a Gas Plant worth US$14 million was constructed, and survey and exploration work by Brunei Shell Petroleum led to significant oil production. By 1956, daily oil production reached 114,700 barrels.

The first plan also focused on the development of public education, with an expenditure of $4 million allocated by 1958. Communication infrastructure was improved through the construction of new roads, and Berakas Airport underwent reconstruction in 1954.

The second National Development Plan was launched in 1962. During this period, a major oil and gas field was discovered, further advancing the country’s petroleum sector. Efforts were made to increase domestic production of meat and eggs, resulting in a 25% output increase in the fishing industry. The construction of the deepwater port at Muara took place, and studies were conducted to provide electricity to rural areas.

Additionally, measures were taken to combat malaria, a prevalent disease in the region. Collaboration with the World Health Organization helped reduce malaria cases from 300 in 1953 to only 66 in 1959. Public sanitation, improved drainage, and the provision of piped pure water contributed to the prevention of infectious diseases. These efforts resulted in a decline in the death rate from 20 per thousand in 1947 to 11.3 per thousand in 1953.

Independence

On 14 November 1971, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah traveled to London to discuss amendments to the 1959 constitution with British representatives. A new agreement, signed on 23 November 1971, outlined the following terms:

  1. Brunei was granted full internal self-government, allowing the country to govern its own internal affairs.
  2. The United Kingdom would retain responsibility for external affairs and defense.
  3. Brunei and the UK agreed to share the responsibility for security and defense, indicating a cooperative approach to maintaining national security.

As a result of this agreement, Gurkha units were deployed in Brunei, and they continue to serve there to this day. On 7 January 1979, another treaty was signed between Brunei and the United Kingdom. Lord Goronwy-Roberts represented the UK in this agreement, which granted Brunei the ability to assume international responsibilities as an independent nation. The UK agreed to provide assistance to Brunei in diplomatic matters. In May 1983, the UK announced that Brunei would gain independence on 1 January 1984.

On 31 December 1983, a significant gathering took place at the main mosques in all four districts of Brunei. At midnight on 1 January 1984, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah read the Proclamation of Independence. Subsequently, the sultan adopted the title of “His Majesty” instead of “His Royal Highness.” Brunei was admitted as the 159th member of the United Nations on 22 September 1984, signifying its entry into the international community.

21st century 

In October 2013, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah declared his plans to implement the Penal Code based on Sharia law in Brunei, specifically targeting the Muslim population, which constitutes about two-thirds of the country’s inhabitants. This implementation was intended to take place in three stages, with full implementation expected by 2016. Brunei would have become the first and only country in East Asia to introduce Sharia law into its penal code, excluding the Indonesian special territory of Aceh, which already had its own regional implementation of Sharia law.

The announcement drew significant international criticism, with many expressing concern about the potential impact on human rights and personal freedoms. The United Nations also expressed deep concern regarding the proposed changes. The move sparked a global debate and discussions surrounding the compatibility of Sharia law with international human rights standards and principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Geography Update 04/24/2024  

Brunei, located in Southeast Asia, is a country comprised of two separate parts on the island of Borneo. It covers a total area of 5,765 square kilometers (2,226 square miles) and has a coastline stretching 161 kilometers (100 miles) along the South China Sea. Brunei shares a 381-kilometer (237-mile) border with Malaysia and has territorial waters spanning 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) as well as a 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometer or 230-mile) exclusive economic zone.

The majority of Brunei’s population, approximately 97%, resides in the larger western part of the country, which includes the districts of Belait, Tutong, and Brunei-Muara. In contrast, the mountainous eastern part, known as the Temburong District, is home to a much smaller population of around 10,000 people. The total population of Brunei is estimated to be around 408,000 as of July 2010, with approximately 150,000 residing in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan. Other significant towns include Muara, a port town, as well as Seria and Kuala Belait, which are known for oil production. The Panaga area in Belait District is home to a sizable expatriate community, particularly Europeans, due to housing provided by Royal Dutch Shell and the British Army, as well as various recreational facilities.

Brunei’s landscape primarily consists of the Borneo lowland rain forests ecoregion, which covers the majority of the island. There are also areas of mountain rainforests located inland.

The climate of Brunei is tropical equatorial, characterized by a tropical rainforest climate. The country is more influenced by the Intertropical Convergence Zone than by trade winds, and cyclones are rare or nonexistent. Brunei, like other ASEAN member states, faces climate change risks and associated challenges.

Politics and government Update 04/24/2024  

Brunei follows a political system governed by its constitution and the principles of the Malay Islamic Monarchy (Melayu Islam Beraja; MIB), which encompasses Malay culture, the Islamic religion, and the political framework under the monarchy. The legal system in Brunei is based on English common law, but Islamic law (sharia) takes precedence in certain cases. While Brunei has a parliament, there are no elections held, with the last election taking place in 1962. 

According to Brunei’s 1959 constitution, His Majesty Hassanal Bolkiah holds the position of the head of state and wields full executive authority. As part of his role, he serves as the state’s prime minister, finance minister, and defense minister. Following the Brunei Revolt of 1962, emergency powers were granted to the head of state, which are renewed every two years, effectively placing Brunei under martial law since then.

Foreign relations Update 04/24/2024 

Until 1979, the United Kingdom managed Brunei’s foreign relations, but after that, the responsibility was transferred to the Brunei Diplomatic Service. Following Brunei’s independence in 1984, the service was elevated to ministerial level and is now known as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Brunei’s official foreign policy is based on the principles of mutual respect for territorial sovereignty, integrity, and independence of other nations, maintaining friendly relations among nations, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and promoting peace, security, and stability in the region.

Brunei established strong ties with the United Kingdom and immediately became the 49th member of the Commonwealth upon gaining independence on 1 January 1984. As part of its efforts to enhance regional relations, Brunei joined ASEAN as the sixth member on 7 January 1984. It also became a full member of the United Nations on 21 September of the same year.

As an Islamic country, Brunei joined the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) in January 1984. It became a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1989 and hosted the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in 2000. Brunei is a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995 and actively participates in BIMP-EAGA (Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area).

Brunei has territorial disputes with Malaysia over Limbang, which Brunei claims as part of its territory. The issue was reportedly resolved in 2009, with Brunei accepting the border in exchange for Malaysia relinquishing claims to oil fields in Bruneian waters. However, the Brunei government denies this and maintains its claim on Limbang. 

Brunei held the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2013 and hosted the ASEAN summit that same year, further strengthening its regional involvement and cooperation. 

Defence Update 04/24/2024 

Brunei maintains a deployment of three infantry battalions strategically positioned across the country. The Brunei navy possesses a fleet of “Ijtihad”-class patrol boats, which were acquired from a reputable German manufacturer. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has established a base in Seria, the central hub of Brunei’s flourishing oil industry, where a Gurkha battalion, comprising 1,500 personnel, is stationed. This arrangement is governed by a defense agreement that was signed between the two nations. 

Tragically, on July 20, 2012, a Bell 212 aircraft operated by the Brunei Air Force crashed in Kuala Belait, resulting in the loss of 12 out of the 14 crew members on board. The investigation to determine the cause of this devastating accident is still ongoing. Regrettably, this incident stands as the most catastrophic aviation event ever recorded in the annals of Brunei’s history.

At present, the Army is in the process of acquiring new state-of-the-art equipment, which includes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and S-70i Black Hawks. 

Recognizing the importance of national defense, Brunei’s Legislative Council has proposed a five percent increase in the defense budget for the fiscal year 2016-17, amounting to approximately 564 million Brunei dollars ($408 million). This sum accounts for roughly ten percent of the nation’s total annual expenditure and represents approximately 2.5 percent of its GDP.

Administrative divisions

Brunei is divided into four districts, namely Brunei-Muara, Belait, Tutong, and Temburong. Among them, the Brunei-Muara District is the smallest in size but the most populous, housing the country’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Belait serves as the birthplace and hub of the nation’s thriving oil and gas industry. Temburong, on the other hand, is an exclave separated from the main part of the country by the Brunei Bay and the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Lastly, Tutong is known for being home to Tasek Merimbun, the largest natural lake in Brunei.

Each district is further subdivided into several mukims, totaling 39 in Brunei. These mukims encompass various villages, locally known as “kampung” or “kampong.”

The city of Bandar Seri Begawan, along with other towns in the country (excluding Muara and Bangar), is administered as Municipal Board areas, referred to as “kawasan Lembaga Bandaran.” Each municipal area may consist of villages or mukims, either in part or in their entirety. Moreover, Bandar Seri Begawan and a few other towns also serve as the capitals of their respective districts.

The administration of each district, its mukims, and villages falls under the responsibility of a District Office, known as “Jabatan Daerah.” Municipal areas, on the other hand, are governed by Municipal Departments, referred to as “Jabatan Bandaran.” Both the District Offices and Municipal Departments operate as government entities under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Legal system Update 04/24/2024 

Brunei’s judicial branch comprises several courts. The highest court, while civil cases are subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, is known as the Supreme Court. It consists of two divisions: the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Each division is led by a chief justice and is composed of two judges

Women and children

According to the U.S. Department of State, Brunei faces issues of discrimination against women. The country has laws in place to prohibit sexual harassment, and individuals who assault or use criminal force with the intention to outrage or knowingly likely to outrage a person’s modesty can face imprisonment for up to five years and caning as punishment.

The law also stipulates that rape can result in imprisonment of up to 30 years and not less than 12 strokes of the cane. However, it is important to note that spousal rape is not specifically criminalized by the law, as long as the wife is above 13 years of age.

The Islamic Family Law Order 2010 and the Married Women Act Order 2010 provide some protections against sexual assault by a spouse. Breaching a protection order can lead to a fine not exceeding BN$2,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.

It is worth mentioning that sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 14 is considered rape by law, punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of eight years, a maximum of 30 years, and not less than 12 strokes of the cane. The aim of this law is to safeguard girls from exploitation, including prostitution and involvement in pornography. 

In Brunei, citizenship is obtained through parents’ nationality rather than by jus soli (birthright citizenship). Parents who are stateless must apply for a special pass for a child born in the country. Failure to register a child’s birth may pose challenges when it comes to enrolling the child in school.

LGBT rights Update 04/24/2024 

Brunei maintains laws that deem male and female homosexuality as illegal. Engaging in sexual relations between men can result in the punishment of death or whipping, while sexual activities between women are punishable by caning or imprisonment.

In May 2019, the Brunei government extended its existing moratorium on the death penalty to include the Sharia criminal code, which introduced the punishment of death by stoning for homosexual acts.

However, later in 2019, Brunei announced the suspension of the second phase of its controversial sharia penal code. This code, initially introduced in 2014, encompassed various punishments for crimes, including theft, drug offenses, and same-sex relationships, involving amputation and death by stoning.

The decision to halt the implementation of the second phase was prompted by significant international condemnation and pressure from nations and human rights organizations. The severe punishments were widely criticized as inhumane and a violation of human rights.

Brunei’s government stated that the decision aimed to maintain peace, stability, and protect the country’s economy and reputation. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei also issued a statement affirming the country’s commitment to “strengthen and improve” its legal system in accordance with international norms and best practices.

It is important to note that the first phase of the sharia penal code, which includes fines and imprisonment for offenses such as failure to attend Friday prayers and alcohol consumption, remains in effect.

Religious rights Update 04/24/2024 

In the Laws of Brunei, the 1959 Constitution guarantees the right of non-Muslims to freely practice their faith. However, there are specific regulations regarding celebrations and prayers, which are required to take place within places of worship or private residences.With the adoption of the Sharia Penal Code, the Ministry of Religious Affairs imposed a ban on Christmas decorations in public spaces, although celebrating Christmas within places of worship and private premises was not prohibited.On December 25, 2015, an estimated 4,000 out of 18,000 local Catholics attended Christmas Day and Christmas Eve masses.The head of the Catholic Church in Brunei at that time stated that there had been no changes or new restrictions, and they continued to abide by the existing regulations, conducting celebrations and worship within church compounds and private residences.

The revised penal code of Brunei was implemented in stages, starting from April 22, 2014, with offenses carrying penalties of fines or imprisonment.The complete code, which was scheduled for final implementation later, included the death penalty for various offenses, both violent and non-violent. These offenses encompassed actions such as insulting or defaming Prophet Muhammad, insulting verses from the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, robbery, rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, and murder. Stoning was specified as the method of execution for crimes of a sexual nature. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offenses violated international law.

Animal rights Update 04/24/2024 

Brunei holds the distinction of being the first country in Asia to implement a nationwide ban on shark finning. This significant step demonstrates Brunei’s commitment to conservation and the protection of marine ecosystems.

In comparison to its neighboring countries on the island of Borneo, Brunei has successfully preserved a substantial portion of its forests. This achievement sets Brunei apart, as deforestation remains a pressing concern in the region. The country’s dedication to maintaining its forest cover highlights its commitment to environmental sustainability.

Furthermore, there is an ongoing public campaign in Brunei aimed at safeguarding pangolins, which are recognized as a threatened species in the country. These unique creatures hold immense ecological value, and efforts are being made to raise awareness about their conservation and promote their protection.

Brunei’s initiatives in banning shark finning, preserving forests, and advocating for the protection of pangolins demonstrate its proactive approach to environmental stewardship and the preservation of biodiversity.

Economy Update 04/24/2024 

Brunei ranks second in the Southeast Asian region in terms of its Human Development Index, with Singapore taking the lead.The country’s economy heavily relies on crude oil and natural gas production, contributing approximately 90% to its GDP. Brunei is the fourth-largest oil producer in Southeast Asia, with a daily production of around 167,000 barrels (26,600 m3).Additionally, it is the ninth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas globally, producing approximately 25.3 million cubic meters (890 million cubic feet) per day.Brunei’s wealth is further underscored by Forbes, which ranks it as the fifth-richest nation out of 182 countries, thanks to its petroleum and natural gas reserves.

In addition to domestic production, Brunei benefits from significant income generated through overseas investments. The Brunei Investment Agency, a branch of the Ministry of Finance, plays a crucial role in these investments.The government provides comprehensive medical services and offers subsidies for rice and housing to its citizens.

Royal Brunei Airlines, the national carrier, aims to establish Brunei as a hub for international travel between Europe and Australia/New Zealand. The airline holds a valuable daily slot at London Heathrow Airport, which it serves via Dubai, highlighting its strategic position. It also operates flights to major Asian destinations such as Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore, and Manila. Brunei heavily relies on imports, including agricultural products (e.g., rice, food items, livestock) and vehicles, as well as electrical goods from other countries.Approximately 60% of Brunei’s food is imported, with around 75% of that coming from other ASEAN countries.

Brunei’s leaders have expressed concerns about the potential impact of increased integration into the global economy on social cohesion. As a result, the country has pursued an isolationist policy. However, Brunei has taken on a more prominent role, serving as the chairman for the 2000 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. The government has outlined plans to enhance the labor force, reduce unemployment (which stood at 6.9% in 2014), strengthen the banking and tourism sectors, and diversify the economy as a whole.Long-term development initiatives are aimed at achieving broader economic growth. 

Food self-sufficiency, particularly in rice production, has been a focus for the government. Brunei renamed its local rice variety as “Laila Rice” during a ceremony called “Padi Planting Towards Achieving Self-Sufficiency of Rice Production in Brunei Darussalam” in April 2009. After many years of efforts to boost local rice production, the royal family harvested the first few stalks of Laila padi in August 2009, a goal that was set about half a century ago. In July 2009, Brunei launched its national halal branding scheme, Brunei Halal, with the aim of exporting to foreign markets. 

As of 2020, Brunei’s electricity production primarily relies on fossil fuels, with renewable energy accounting for less than 1% of the country’s total electricity generation.

Infrastructure Update 04/24/2024 

As of 2019, Brunei’s road network had a total length of 3,713.57 kilometers (2,307.51 miles), with 86.8% of the roads being paved. One notable highway is the 135-kilometer (84 miles) dual carriageway connecting Muara Town to Kuala Belait.

Brunei is accessible through various transportation modes, including air, sea, and land. The main entry point to the country is Brunei International Airport, which is served by the national carrier, Royal Brunei Airlines. Another airfield, Anduki Airfield, is located in Seria. The Muara ferry terminal provides regular connections to Labuan in Malaysia, while speedboats are used for passenger and goods transportation to the Temburong district. The Tutong-Muara Highway is the main road running across Brunei, and the country has a well-developed road network. The primary sea port is located in Muara. 

Significant upgrades are currently being made to the airport in Brunei, with Changi Airport International acting as the consultant for the modernization project. The planned cost for this project is $150 million, and it includes the construction of a new terminal, arrival hall, and additional floor space covering 14,000 square meters (150,000 square feet). These enhancements are expected to double the airport’s annual passenger capacity from 1.5 million to 3 million. 

Brunei has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world, with one private car for every 2.09 persons. This can be attributed to factors such as the absence of a comprehensive public transport system, low import taxes, and low gasoline prices (currently B$0.53 per liter). 

A new 30-kilometer (19 miles) roadway connecting the Muara and Temburong districts is scheduled for completion in 2019. This roadway includes a bridge spanning 14 kilometers (9 miles) across the Brunei Bay, with a cost of $1.6 billion.

Banking Update 04/24/2024 

In April 2016, Bank of China was granted permission to open a branch in Brunei. However, Citibank, which had been operating in Brunei since 1972, closed its operations in 2014. Similarly, HSBC, which had entered the market in 1947, closed its operations in Brunei in November 2017. 

Currently, several banks are operating in Brunei, including Maybank and RHB Bank from Malaysia, Standard Chartered Bank from the United Kingdom, United Overseas Bank from Singapore, and Bank of China. These banks provide various banking services to individuals and businesses in Brunei.

Demographics Update 04/24/2024 

The indigenous ethnicities of Brunei include the Belait, Brunei Bisaya (distinct from the Bisaya/Visaya of the Philippines), Bruneian Malay, Dusun, Kedayan, Lun Bawang, Murut, and Tutong.

As of 2021, the population of Brunei was 445,373, with approximately 76% residing in urban areas. The rate of urbanization is estimated at 2.13% per year from 2010 to 2015. The average life expectancy in Brunei is 77.7 years.

In terms of ethnic composition, in 2014, approximately 65.7% of the population identified as Malay, 10.3% as Chinese, and 3.4% as indigenous. The remaining 20.6% consists of smaller ethnic groups. Brunei also has a significant expatriate community, with many individuals coming from non-Muslim countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India.

Religion Update 04/24/2024 

Islam is the official religion of Brunei, specifically of the Sunni denomination and the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence. Over 80% of the population, including the majority of Bruneian Malays and Kedayans, identify as Muslims. Buddhism is practiced by around 7% of the population, mainly among the Chinese community. Christianity is also practiced by approximately 7.1% of the population. There is a small percentage of freethinkers, primarily among the Chinese, who make up about 7% of the population. While many of them incorporate elements of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism in their practices, they officially identify as having no religion and are often labeled as atheists in official censuses. Indigenous religions are followed by about 2% of the population.

Languages

The official language of Brunei is Standard Malay, which is written using both the Latin alphabet (Rumi) and the Arabic alphabet (Jawi). Previously, Malay was written in the Jawi script before it was switched to the Latin alphabet around 1941.

The main spoken language is Brunei Malay (Melayu Brunei). Brunei Malay has significant differences from standard Malay and other Malay dialects, although it is about 84% similar to standard Malay and largely mutually intelligible with it.

English is widely used as a language for business and official purposes, and a majority of the population in Brunei can speak English. English is used as a working language in business and as the medium of instruction from primary to tertiary education.

Chinese languages are also widely spoken, particularly among the Chinese minority in Brunei, who speak various Chinese dialects.

Arabic is the religious language of Muslims and is taught in schools, especially religious schools and higher education institutions. Many Muslims in Brunei have received formal or informal education in reading, writing, and pronouncing Arabic as part of their religious education.

Other languages and dialects spoken in Brunei include the Kedayan Malay dialect, Tutong Malay dialect, Murut, and Dusun.

Culture Update 04/24/2024 

The culture of Brunei is predominantly Malay, reflecting the country’s ethnic makeup. It is heavily influenced by Islam and is generally considered more conservative compared to Indonesia and Malaysia.

Bruneian culture has been shaped by various influences throughout history, including animist, Hindu, Islamic, and Western influences. Islam, in particular, has had a profound impact on Bruneian culture and is embraced as the country’s ideology and philosophy.

As a Sharia country, Brunei has implemented strict regulations regarding the sale and public consumption of alcohol. Alcohol is banned and not available for sale in the country. However, non-Muslims are allowed to bring in a limited amount of alcohol from their point of embarkation overseas for their personal consumption.

It’s important to note that Brunei’s cultural practices and adherence to Islamic principles may differ from other countries in the region, and it is known for its conservative stance on certain issues.

Media

Media in Brunei is often regarded as pro-government, and criticism of the government and monarchy is rare. The country’s media landscape is classified as “Not Free” by Freedom House. However, it is worth noting that the press is not explicitly hostile towards alternative viewpoints, and it is not restricted to publishing only government-related articles.

Brunei Press PLC, a printing and publishing company, was established in 1953 with the government’s permission. The company is responsible for publishing the English daily newspaper, Borneo Bulletin. Initially a weekly community paper, it transitioned into a daily publication in 1990. Other local newspapers include Media Permata and Pelita Brunei, both of which are Malay-language papers circulated daily. The Brunei Times, an independent English newspaper, has also been published in Brunei since 2006.

The Brunei government owns and operates the state broadcaster, Radio Television Brunei (RTB), which manages three television channels: RTB Perdana, RTB Aneka, and RTB Sukmaindera. With the introduction of digital TV using DVB-T, these channels have expanded their reach. Additionally, RTB operates five radio stations: National FM, Pilihan FM, Nur Islam FM, Harmony FM, and Pelangi FM. Cable television is also available through a private company, Astro-Kristal, and there is one private radio station called Kristal FM. Furthermore, Brunei has an online campus radio station called UBD FM, which streams from Universiti Brunei Darussalam, the country’s first university.

While the media landscape in Brunei leans towards pro-government perspectives, there are a variety of news outlets and broadcasting channels available to the public, allowing for a certain level of diversity in content.

Sport

The most popular sport in Brunei is association football (soccer). The Brunei national football team became a member of FIFA in 1969, but it has not achieved significant success in international competitions. The country’s top football league is the Brunei Super League, which is organized by the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (FABD). In addition to football, Brunei has its own martial art called “Silat Suffian Bela Diri.”

Brunei has participated in the Olympic Games since its debut in 1996 and has been present at all subsequent Summer Olympics, except for the 2008 edition. The country has competed in sports such as badminton, shooting, swimming, and track-and-field, but it has yet to win any medals. The Brunei Darussalam National Olympic Council serves as the National Olympic Committee for Brunei.

At the Asian Games, Brunei has achieved modest success, winning four bronze medals. The country hosted its first major international sporting event, the 1999 Southeast Asian Games. According to the all-time Southeast Asian Games medal table, Brunei has won a total of 14 gold, 55 silver, and 163 bronze medals at the games.

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