Bandar Seri Begawan: Given that Brunei Darussalam and the United Kingdom enjoy decades of close bilateral ties, derived from a shared history, strong educational links, cooperation in the energy sector and a solid relationship in defence between both governments, the new British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam said the UK will continue building on these strong foundations and look for ways in which both sides can invigorate the relationship to benefit both governments.
Mr David Campbell who arrived here in July, succeeding Mr Rob Fenn is not a stranger to this region. He brings with him a wealth of experience during his stint as Deputy High Commissioner in Singapore and Deputy Head of Mission in Manila before his last post as the Director British Trade & Cultural Office in Taipei.
Mr Campbell received his letter of credence from His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in a ceremony at Istana Nurul Iman last week and was granted an audience with His Majesty.
In an interview at his residence yesterday, Mr Campbell lauded the strong education link between both countries and said the UK is very proud to be the preferred overseas destination for Bruneian students.
Over 2,000 Bruneian students are currently studying in the UK.
Recognising that people today have more options and choices in education, Mr Campbell vowed that the UK would not take things for granted and would continue to market the best British education to Bruneians.
"We are working with British universities in making sure that we are presenting the most up-to-date picture possible to young Bruneians on benefits that they will receive throughout their careers, as well as social and cultural benefits they will receive by studying in the UK," he said.
"We are so lucky that we have a very active British Universities in Brunei Association (BUBA) and they have over 51 British universities that are active members."
Sharing one exciting initiative in encouraging more young Bruneians to be involved in entrepreneurship, Mr Campbell said BUBA is launching a business idea pitching competition for sixth formers or Bruneians students who are looking to go to university.
"We will have representatives from universities and British companies and they will listen to the pitch that the young Bruneians are making ... and there will be some good prizes for the winners. In a way what they are trying to do there is to link with Brunei's entrepreneurship agenda," he said.
He said the British High Commission also launched a new initiative with the Britain-Brunei Business Forum (BBBF) this week where Bruneians who have studied in the UK were appointed as Associate members.
"We plan with the BBBF lots of events around business networking, practical skill's in terms of starting a business and challenges that business will face. This can be sort of a very relaxed unique forum where people can do some networking but also talk to more experienced business figures or get ideas or support or some mentoring," he added.
Mr Campbell said he is also very keen to strengthen links between British universities and Brunei to explore ways that universities can help with the agenda of helping to increase employment opportunities.
He added that another important connection in the education sector between both countries is the level of university-to-university connection, where there are opportunities in joint research.
"I think there are number of areas where Brunei has a lot of skills and tractions whether it's on the energy side or environment or biodiversity. Brunei has a very interesting environment for British experts to research in and likewise I think there will be good opportunities for the Bruneians side to be partnering with some of our best research people in the UK," he said.
When asked on his thoughts of the longstanding Brunei-UK defence cooperation, Mr Campbell praised the excellent level of cooperation from both military sides in many areas.
"Before I came here in July I met our then-Chief of Defence Staff in the UK who just came back from a visit to Brunei and he said how impressed he was by the level of cooperation between UK and Brunei military" he said.
Mr Campbell said the former Chief of Defence Staff will be back in Brunei for the Brunei Darussalam International Defence Exhibition and Conference (BRIDEX) in December as a key speaker.
"Certainly I know British companies will have strong presence at BRIDEX and in terms of training, we do a lot of training with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces. There will be a lot of visits with directions and a lot of senior defence visitors in the next few years or so ... It is a very important part of the relationship," he added.
As the Chairmanship of Asean lies with Brunei this year, Mr Campbell also praised the Sultanate's efforts in managing the meetings.
"We've been very impressed by the way that Brunei has managed the chairmanship of Asean this year and we certainly wish Brunei all the very best in hosting both the Asean summits next week and all the related meetings," he said.
He added that during the G20 Meeting in Saint Petersburg last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron met with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and congratulated him personally on Brunei's success.
Mr Campbell also highlighted the regional bloc's significance to the UK.
"Asean is very important to the UK. The British government recently took the decision to reopen our embassy in Laos so this now means we have permanent representation in all Asean member countries. Asean and Asia generally are an important focus for British ministers, in fact more of our ministers visited Asia last year than at any time the last 20 years and that included Brunei. Asean is a very important trade partner for us, and also as a political partner in terms of the global challenges we all face together," he said.
According to him, there will be further opportunity for the UK at a very high level to engage with Brunei.
"We are delighted that His Majesty has accepted David Cameron's invitation for him to attend the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) which is taking place in London at the end of this month. That is the first time the forum is being held outside an Islamic country so that will be a further opportunity for us to hear about," he said.
When asked on his thoughts of coming back to Southeast Asia and his new post in Brunei, Mr Campbell said he is absolutely delighted to be back in the region and feels very honoured to be representing British interest in the country, especially with a country that has such a long standing and really friendly relations with the UK.
"Having worked in Singapore and the Philippines before, it is great to be back in another Asean country and such a privilege to be here," he added.
Even though Asean member countries share some similarities and shared approaches to some issues, "the great thing is each has its own great character", he said.
"This is what I'm particularly looking forward to in my time here ... Getting a real understanding of Brunei and the lives of the people, the economy and the Brunei's aspirations for the future," he said.