Six weeks later, Singapore has still not received any word from Hong Kong customs as to why its SAF Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles were seized while returning from military drills in Taiwan. Now, they are beginning to get a little impatient.
On Monday, Singapore Defense Minister Ng En Hen called on Hong Kong to return the nine armored vehicles seized by customs officers in November, stating that the detention of the vehicles violates international law, telling Singapore’s parliament:
The Hong Kong authorities have responded that the investigation is ongoing and will take some time to complete, and that the Hong Kong government will handle the matter in accordance with their laws.
The legal position is that the SAF Terrexes and other equipment detained in Hong Kong are the property of the Singapore Government. They are protected by sovereign immunity, even though they were being shipped by commercial carriers. This means that they are immune from any measures of constraint abroad. They cannot legally be detained or confiscated by other countries.
This principle is well-established under international law, and we are advised by lawyers that it is also the law in the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region).
According to Ng, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has wrote to Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung asking for the immediate return of the military vehicles.
But at the same time, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament that Singapore has not actually spoken to China about the matter of the seized troop carriers — which would seem to explain a lot.
“It is best that this matter be handled through the proper legal process, and there is no need to politicize it. There is no need to engage in megaphone diplomacy,” Balakrishnan said.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong customs maintains that the case is still under investigation. “The suspected controlled items are still kept at a storage place of customs in Tuen Mun,” it said on Monday in an e-mailed statement. “They have been stored indoors since December 6th.”
At a regular press conference in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Singapore to act calmly in the matter and maintained that the incident was being handled in accordance with the law.
“I hope the relevant parties can be cautious in their remarks and actions,” Lu said. “I want to stress that China hopes other nations, including Singapore, follow the one-China principle. This is the foundation for bilateral ties between China and any other nation. I hope the relevant parties can follow the laws of Hong Kong, China.”
The nine carriers and equipment were seized by Hong Kong customs off a cargo ship on November 23rd that was sailing from Taiwan to Singapore following military drills held on the island. FactWire reported that Hong Kong customs officials were tipped off about the shipment by their mainland counterparts, while Hong Kong customs has maintained they were just carrying out an ordinary inspection.
For decades, Singapore has carried out annual military training exercises in Taiwan without incident. However, after Hong Kong customs seized the vehicles, China quickly issued its own formal condemnation, lodging a protest against Singapore for its disregard of the “one-China principle.”
Traditionally, Singapore has served as a kind of a bridge between Beijing and Taipei. It was in Singapore that last year’s historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took place. But recently, relations between Singapore and the mainland have been worsening thanks to South China Sea tensions and Singapore turning increasingly to the United States for security aid.
Back in November, the always provocative Global Times, weighed in on the incident, saying that that for all the Chinese people care, the vehicles can 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’ armored vehicles that ‘walked right into our trap’ is to send them to the steel mills to be melted down,” read the editorial.
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