BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Chinese embassy in Brunei has broken ground on a 20,000 square metre site for its new diplomatic mission, as trade, investment and tourism between the two countries reaches an all-time high.

Chinese Ambassador Yu Hong on Wednesday said Brunei-China relations had reached a “new stage” after a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping last November, when the relationship was upgraded to a strategic cooperative partnership.

Located in the Diplomatic Enclave on Jalan Kebangsaan, the new embassy is expected to be complete within three years, said Hong, aimed at improving the working and living environment for Chinese citizens in Brunei.

The new embassy premises is divided into two parts covering an area of more than 20,000 square metres, including an office building, ambassador’s residence, consular office, staff apartments and ancillary houses.

It will be the first purpose-built property for the embassy, which set up a mission in Bandar Seri Begawan in 1993 after diplomatic relations were established in 1991.

“After years of investigation, design, budget application and approval, today we are very happy to be able to break the ground,” Hong added.

China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luo Zhaohui, also made an appearance at the foundation-laying ceremony for the new embassy.

“I came here yesterday and held bilateral talks with Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and I’m quite optimistic about the future cooperation between our two countries, and we will both work hard to further strengthen our bilateral relations”.

Trade between the two countries reached US$1.8 billion last year, a staggering 80 per cent increase from 2017, fueled by Chinese imports and exports of Brunei’s natural gas.

Business with China is expected to have a direct impact in raising Brunei’s GDP over the next few years, particularly through the sultanate’s largest foreign direct investment project – the $15 billion Hengyi Industries’ oil refinery and petrochemical plant at Pulau Muara Besar.

Bilateral cooperation also extends to the Brunei-Guangxi Economic Corridor, which aims to connect and facilitate trade and investment between Brunei and the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Partnerships under the corridor include privatisation of the container terminal in Muara through a joint venture between the Beibu Gulf Port Group and the Brunei government to form Muara Port Company.

China has also overtaken Malaysia as the top source of tourist arrivals by air, with visitor numbers growing by 21 percent in 2018 to 65,653.