Brunei is a country located in Southeast Asia, situated along the northern coast of the island of Borneo. It is completely surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak, with the Sarawak district of Limbang dividing its territory. Notably, Brunei is the sole sovereign state occupying Borneo entirely, as the rest of the island is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia. As of 2020, Brunei had a population of 460,345, with around 100,000 people residing in its capital and largest city, Bandar Seri Begawan. The government of Brunei operates as an absolute monarchy, with the Sultan of Brunei as the ruling authority. The legal system in Brunei combines elements of English common law and jurisprudence influenced by Islam, including aspects of sharia law.
Historically, during the reign of Sultan Bolkiah (1485–1528), the Bruneian Empire claimed control over a significant portion of Borneo, including present-day Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the Sulu archipelago and the islands off the northwestern tip of Borneo. Some historical claims also suggest control over Seludong, believed by some to be the modern Philippine capital of Manila, though this is debated among Southeast Asian scholars. The maritime state of Brunei was visited by the surviving crew of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition in 1521, and it engaged in conflict with Spain during the Castilian War in 1578.
In the 19th century, the Bruneian Empire began to decline. It ceded Sarawak to James Brooke, who became the White Rajah, and Sabah to the British North Borneo Chartered Company. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate, and a British resident was appointed as colonial manager in 1906. After Japanese occupation during World War II, a new constitution was established in 1959. In 1962, a small armed rebellion against the monarchy was quelled with British assistance. Brunei achieved full independence from Britain on January 1, 1984.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has been the leader of Brunei since 1967. The country’s wealth primarily comes from its substantial petroleum and natural gas reserves. Economic growth in the 1990s and 2000s transformed Brunei into an industrialized nation, with its GDP increasing by 56% between 1999 and 2008. Brunei boasts the second-highest Human Development Index (HDI) among Southeast Asian countries, with Singapore being the only one surpassing it. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Brunei ranks fifth globally in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP). Additionally, the IMF estimated in 2011 that Brunei was one of only two countries, the other being Libya, with a public debt-to-GDP ratio of 0%.