As the ruler of a small country, Hassanal Bolkiah tries to protect his nation's independence by maintaining a defense relationship with the United Kingdom, and by strengthening ties to neighboring Asian states. In the past, both Indonesia and Malaysia had territorial disputes with Brunei and supported the sultan's political opponents. In addition, Malaysia regularly called upon the United Kingdom to "decolonize" Brunei and advocated United Nations (UN) supervision of elections in the sultanate. However, recently relations between Brunei and its neighbors have improved. In July 1980, the sultan paid the first official visit to Malaysia in 17 years. In September 1987, Brunei and Malaysia announced a joint plan to produce defense equipment. In October 1984, Hassanal Bolkiah met with Indonesian president Suharto at Jakarta, and Indonesia subsequently denied any territorial ambitions in regard to the sultanate. In September 1987, Hassanal Bolkiah offered an interest-free loan of US $100 million to Indonesia for industrial and transport projects. In 1986, at the request of the United States, Hassanal Bolkiah sent US $10 million to the Nicaraguan contras.
Following independence, Brunei became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Commonwealth, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the UN. In 1999, the sultan began discussing the creation of a Philippines-Brunei Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation with the Philippines president Joseph Estrada. By 2001 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had replaced Estrada as president; during a state visit to Brunei in August 2001, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding related to increasing cooperation in defense. In January 2003, Brunei and the United Kingdom held the first joint commission for defence cooperation, stemming from a 2002 memorandum of understanding between the two nations.