A Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle. Source: Wikimedia
Singapore is trying to play down the impact that the seizure of nine of its armoured-personnel carriers could have on its relationship with China.
The troop carriers were impounded last week at Hong Kong on their way from Taiwan, leading to condemnation from the mainland’s foreign ministry about maintaining military ties with Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province.
Singapore’s Ministry of Defence was hoping to begin proceedings to recover the vehicles after a Tuesday meeting with Hong Kong customs and the shipping firm APL, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
The meeting was hoped to explain the legal basis for the detention of the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles, said Dr Ng.
Singaporean foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan reportedly said it was “not a strategic incident”.
“I wouldn’t overreact to that … we expect commercial providers of services to strictly comply with the law,” Balakrishnan told the Straits Times. “It will be a footnote on how to do things strictly, carefully and by the law. It’s not a strategic incident.”
Ties between China and Singapore have come under strain with Beijing suspecting the city-state is siding with Washington over the South China Sea dispute.
China accused the Pentagon of deliberately creating tension by sailing its naval vessels close to Chinese-controlled islands.
The mainland’s foreign ministry said it had lodged a protest to Singapore over the vehicles and demanded it abide by Hong Kong’s legislation.
Singapore and Taiwan have had military ties since the 1970s with Taiwan being used for Singaporean infantry training. Singapore’s impressive military has always lacked sufficient training areas.
China and Singapore re-established diplomatic relations in the 1990s.
“We all know, and China knows, that we’ve had special arrangements with Taiwan for a long time, and what we are doing there is no longer a secret,” Balakrishnan said. “If you are truly close, there will be things you disagree about from time to time.
“Fortunately or unfortunately for Singapore, we are very transparent, we call a spade a spade. It doesn’t mean we are shifting our position or deliberately trying to poke people in the eye.”
China’s state-run Global Times said the vehicles should be “melted down”.
“Singapore’s image in China is now so rotten that ordinary Chinese people think the best thing to do with the ‘confiscated’ armoured vehicles that ‘walked right into our trap’ is to send them to the steel mills to be melted down,” the paper argued in an editorial.
Singapore has no South China Sea claims, but as Asean’s biggest port its economy depends on free navigation.