BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said his country’s policies towards Brunei will remain unchanged despite major shifts in Malaysia’s political landscape since the Pakatan Harapan coalition unseated Barisan Nasional in the federal election last May.

The 93-year-old leader on Monday ended his two-day visit to Brunei, where he met with His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam for talks at Istana Nurul Iman.

“There are several issues between Brunei and Malaysia that need to be tackled. We did not discuss in detail but I did mention it [to His Majesty],” he said, referring the construction of the Pan-Borneo Highway and the joint commercial development of offshore oil blocks in the South China Sea.

Ownership of the blocks, known as CA1 and CA2, had been the subject of dispute between Brunei and Malaysia until 2009, when the two countries agreed in principle to revenue-sharing. The concession, which falls along the shared maritime boundary, was later awarded to PetroleumBRUNEI and PETRONAS, although commercialisation has yet to take place.

“We need to settle these issues as soon as possible, and it will be left to the [relevant] officers [to handle],” he told media in a press conference before returning to Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir said he also explained to the Sultan why the Pan-Borneo Highway would need to bypass Brunei due to cost restrictions and immigration considerations.

“The sultan has no issues if the highway was to enter Brunei territory, but he understands our difficulties,” the PM said, adding that the decision was made to simplify travel and cut unnecessary immigration checks.

HM the Sultan of Brunei gives a titah on Sept 3, 2018 during a luncheon in honour of Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad’s (L) two-day visit to Brunei. Also seated are HM the Raja Isteri (2R) and Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali (R). Photo: Infofoto

During a luncheon held at the Istana for the Malaysian leader and his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, the sultan said he hoped for Malaysia’s cooperation in developing Brunei’s agriculture sector to cut reliance on food imports.

“Malaysia has more experience in this field… and we have high regard for Malaysia’s ability to generate its economy,” His Majesty said in a titah.

The monarch also praised the “meaningful cooperation” between the two countries in joint military exercises and international peacekeeping operations. Bruneian troops are embedded in Malaysian battalions for the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao, Philippines, and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

The sultan added that the annual consultation between the leaders of Brunei and Malaysia — scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur later this year — remains an important platform to foster the historically close ties between the two nations.

“[Our relationship] is a long and lasting one that cannot be broken,” Mahathir said, echoing His Majesty’s statement. “We are of the same ethnic group and race, we have the same language and are both Muslim nations… And as Muslims, we are brothers, and our relations should be brotherly.”

Speaking to media later that day, Mahathir said the aim of his visit was to illustrate Malaysia’s commitment to close bilateral cooperation.

“His Majesty was the first person to call on me [after the election victory]. I felt that I should return the compliment.

“My speech given at the Istana seems to be well-received, they all look forward to working with the new government of Malaysia.

“The reception [in Brunei] has been extremely good. I have difficulty climbing the stairs, so they built ramps for me and provided a buggy. At the park, as well as at the Istana, the sultan drove it himself. I felt greatly honoured.”