This article examines Brunei’s response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Brunei has welcomed investments from China since well before the launch of the BRI in 2013 and has become even more receptive as the investments have grown. Brunei’s low-profile but enthusiastic receptivity to the BRI is motivated primarily by its ruling elite’s legitimation-driven pragmatism to maintain its authority by diversifying Brunei’s energy-based economy. The convergence between the sultan’s Brunei Vision 2035 (Wawasan Brunei 2035) and Xi Jin-ping’s BRI has increased the political importance of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) to Brunei. Thus, embracing the BRI is key to the elite’s development-based performance legitimation, which is augmented by an ideology-based pathway of particularistic justification, in the form of a Malay Islamic Monarchy. Since this ideology is not nationalistic, there is little political risk to Brunei downplaying China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea while simultaneously engaging China to maximize economic benefits and forge functional cooperation. These complementary pathways are central to maintaining the Brunei regime’s domestic authority.


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pp. 397-420
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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