BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The United States’ top commander in the region held talks with Brunei’s monarch and senior defence officials on Monday, as the two countries seek ways to expand defence cooperation amid rising geopolitical tension in East Asia.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah held an audience with United States Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John C. Aquilino at Istana Nurul Iman, where the latter expressed “unwavering support” of the Brunei-US security partnership towards a “free and open Indo-Pacific region”, according to a statement made by the US Embassy on social media.

Aquilino heads the United States’ largest combatant command and has been a stern critic of China’s actions throughout the Indo-Pacific, including its intercepts of US and allied aircraft.

He is in Brunei for a three-day visit hosted by the Ministry of Defence, where will meet with senior defence and foreign policy officials to discuss bolstering Brunei-US security cooperation.

US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John C. Aquilino inspects the guard of honour at Bolkiah Garrison. Photo: MinDef

On Monday, Aquilino paid courtesy calls to the Deputy Minister of Defence Dato Hj Abdul Razak Hj Abd Kadir and RBAF Commander Major General Dato Hj Muhammad Haszaimi Bol Hassan.

Brunei’s defence ministry said both sides affirmed the “long-standing and close defence relationship” between Brunei and the US, which “continues to grow and strengthen over the years through extensive bilateral engagements”.

The armed forces of both countries participate in a number of training programs and joint exercises, such as the annual CARAT exercise, as well as multilateral cooperation including Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), Chief of Defence Conference (CHOD) as well as through the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) framework.

Aquilino also met with Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Dato Hj Erywan Yusof on Monday.

The admiral’s visit comes on the back of similar visits to New Zealand and Australia aimed at strengthening alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.