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*Because of limited space in the Borneo Bulletin paper, the editor had to take some parts out from my article. Even the title has been changed from “How Brunei can ride the ascent of ASEAN” to “Youths can make shape future of Brunei, ASEAN”. It has caused some bits of confusion as evident from feedbacks in the net (which i highly appreciate, thank you!).  So here is the unedited, original version of the Borneo Bulletin letter-to-editor which I sent. I thank Borneo Bulletin again for publishing the letter! You guys are AWESOME! To readers, keep on buying and supporting the paper!


Brunei’s strategic position in the political and economic organisation of ASEAN is a matter of importance for the youths and the people to look and study into. With a population of over six hundred million people, a combined GDP of 2.3 trillion dollars, and projected by McKinsey to rank as the fourth largest economy by 2050, ASEAN is an enabler for Brunei’s economic development. Brunei being a nation of less than half a million people has its inherent advantages that make it possible to ride the ascent of ASEAN successfully. In this article I shall mention three of these advantages.

The first advantage is that Brunei is easily manageable due thanks to its small population and general stability. These conditions gives greater room to carry out regional policy making at the local level. Such policy making must then be adopted to the nation’s and region’s advantage. The ASEAN Economic Cooperation reform, such as in improving general labour standards, comes to mind. Such change is possible and relatively easier to carry out in Brunei, than a country with a population of say fifty or sixty million people as in the case of Myanmar or Thailand respectively.

To enhance the governing abilities of local leaders (from central government to district, from mukim to kampong level areas) is thus vital in formulating and spearheading policies that would affect positively to all classes of society. Such an act would require all of us to adapt an experimentation approach in policy-making. The experimentation approach refers to the path in carrying out policies which affect a small locality first. If it does not work, disband it. If it succeeds, magnify it.

The experimentation approach is one of the many ways that is adopted by the paramount leader of China Deng Xiaoping in carrying out pro-economic and pro-growth policies from the 70s to the 90s. The approach took in the form of carrying out economic policies at small localities, that if successful were taken at the national-level. The case of Shenzhen’s Special Economic Zones is an example as how economic policies which was done right at the provincial were remodelled at the national level. If a big country such as China was able to succeed through this approach, Brunei can too. It is then a matter of adopting the right policies to experiment on which are aligned to the interest of the nation and of ASEAN.

The second advantage is that Brunei is in a great position to adopt a global, pro-progress policies. Brunei has inherited great progress under His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin’s rule. In education, for instance, Brunei has the second highest literary rate in ASEAN in 2013 according to the ASEAN Secretariat report. The figure would have been much lower over fifty to seventy years ago – way before Brunei’s independence. But thanks to strong, visionary leadership we are able to close the gap of development within a short period of time.

If we can excel in education, we can excel in other areas. These areas include the development of industries such as finance, real estate, and logistics trade. These three areas, in my opinion, serves as the future industries to focus on in enhancing the resilience of Brunei Darussalam in its position in the ASEAN region.

Brunei after all has a strong proud tradition of trade as reflected in its advent of its Golden Age in the 15th century. It is time to make use of the resources we have today to rejuvenate our position in the region by tapping in industries which we have a strong shot at succeeding at, such as in finance, real estate, and logistics trade. Building these areas would bode well in establishing a starting point in the path towards adapting global, pro-progress policies. These policies would increase the chances of enhancing the nation’s position in ASEAN.

The final advantage that enables Brunei to precipitate development through ASEANs rise is the Bruneian people themselves. Day by day, its youths notably those in the YSEALI programme and scholars studying in UK are becoming actively involved in ASEAN-related activities or events.

Being a member of the LSE SU ASEAN Society – which won Best New Society Award in LSE recently – and friends of Bruneians who are actively involved in ASEAN society events, such as those studying in York, Warwick, or Essex, is reflective to the strong independent initiative taken by the students in promoting the goodwill and name of Brunei Darussalam among ASEAN friends in the UK.

Most of the time the students who wish to secure support do not need any form of financing. What they need most is the moral support and active engagement from and with the government agencies – notably MOFAT – to work together in shaping and discussing ASEAN policies.

We Bruneians studying in the UK are fortunate because we have strong support from the Brunei Government in UK to pursue our passions in promoting things related to ASEAN. It empowered my friends and I to continually contribute to the Brunei Darussalam’s name to our ASEAN friends. I myself could not have done it without their support.

So how can the youths of ASEAN (including those in Brunei) play a role in shaping ASEAN forward? This is the question I asked to the former Prime Minister of Thailand Abhisit Vejjajiva at the LSE Southeast Asia Speakers Series two months ago. He replied how youths like ourselves should give advise to him instead! He noted the rise of new technologies such as social media brings about greater connectivity and knowledge that would not have been imaginable in their own early youths.

He further noted that over half of the regional population is under thirty years old and how the young people in the region should take note in ASEANs development in the years to come, for they are the ones who shall inherit all the opportunities and challenges facing the region. Opportunities as in how can youths play an effective role in shaping ASEAN; challenges as in how can the youths work together on the basis of equality and mutual cooperation with their respective and neighbouring governments in forwarding and carrying out proposals that seek to improve the state of the region.

What I can say is that the people of Brunei, especially its youths, is in a great position to contribute to the region. There is a famous proverb which states that the journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step. The youths of Brunei today holds the key to improving not just the nation’s future, but the regions’. Such a noble mission requires us to first and foremost understand where our nation stands in ASEAN. Therefore this article was written.

And I shall say to you now who is reading this article, especially if you are the youth of Brunei, that you play an important role in shaping the future of the region. All I need from you is to stand out from the crowd and share your passion on how you can shape both Brunei and ASEAN forward. Together we can help ascend Brunei’s position in the region.

To conclude, Brunei is in a strategic position in ASEAN that requires its people to look and study into. The region’s potential an enabler for the nation’s economic development is vital. The three factors that could contribute towards Brunei’s steep ascent is firstly how the nation is easily manageable relative to other countries due to its small population and general stability. Secondly, it is in a great position to adapt a global, pro-progress policies thanks to factor endowments such as education and history (Brunei’s Golden Age). These policies include building up the finance, real estate, and logistics trade industries as a path of rapid development. Thirdly, the people of Brunei is in itself an asset that can lead to the the advancement of national progress.

Brunei stands in the crossroads of history where its future lies at the decisions taken by today’s leaders. Such decisions include on how Brunei can align itself with ASEAN nations effectively and efficiently in spearheading development on the basis of equality and mutual cooperation with its neighbours. This article has shown how the aforementioned three factors and policy solutions that could help us achieve that goal. Such a goal can be carried out by the youths who will continue on their predecessors work.

This is how Brunei can ride the ascent of ASEAN. The journey of a thousand miles continues.

Written by Abdul Malik Omar.

*Here’s the picture of the letter. Although blurred, you can imagine how hard it would have been to cut a 1400 words + piece to 1000 words + (!). Pics credit to Melvin Lai, my friend!
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