Amphibious Terrex vehicles in 2011. Source: Wikimedia
Commissioner Roy Tang said his department was acting only under Hong Kong law when it impounded the amphibious SAF Terrex vehicles and other equipment.
Singapore urges China to abide by last year’s international tribunal ruling that Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea were unlawful. It also remains one of Taiwan’s staunchest allies.
Hong Kong said the vehicles would be returned to Singapore after an investigation into a suspected violation of rules governing the shipment of “strategic commodities”. The vehicles were being shipped back to the Lion City through Hong Kong in November after military training exercises in Taiwan.
The confiscation was seen as indicative of Beijing’s irritation with Singapore’s ongoing military training with Taiwan.
Singapore and Taiwan signed a defence agreement, Project Starlight, in 1974. It allows the tiny republic to conduct annual military exercises on the more spacious island of Taiwan.
“Hong Kong customs is only authorised to enforce the Hong Kong law. We have no role to play in any enforcement or work other than laws applicable to Hong Kong, so there’s no such implication,” Tang told the media.
The customs chief said a criminal prosecution was being considered, although it would not involve the city-state.
“The Singaporean government, from the very beginning, has not been the subject of investigation,” Tang said.
The Singaporean Ministry of Defence has long maintained the vehicles were used “in routine overseas training and shipped back via commercial means, as with previous exercises”.
“SAF Terrexes are coming home to Singapore. Looking forward to this happy reunion with all Singaporeans in the Year of the Rooster,” Ng Eng Hen, the Singaporean defence minister, posted on Facebook.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying reiterated Beijing’s stance that it regarded Taiwan as a Chinese province. “The Chinese government has consistently opposed official exchanges in any forms, including military interactions and co-operations, between Taiwan and countries having relationships with China,” she said, calling on the Singaporean authorities to follow the “one-China” policy.
Hong Kong retains considerable autonomy and a separate legal system from mainland China under the “one country, two systems” policy.