Last Wednesday, Hong Kong customs seized nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) vehicles that were on board a cargo ship en route from Taiwan following military training drills on the island. Those armored vehicles have now been moved to a secure area with access control, Singapore’s Ministry of Defense said.
Currently, it’s unclear what will happen to the nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV) and equipment. SAF officials arrived in Hong Kong last Friday night and met representatives of the shipping line, APL, “to access the situation” and get the seized cargo moved to a secure facility.
The Terrex ICVs have since been transported to the depot at the River Trade Terminal. Earlier, footage was posted online showing local officials going into the military vehicles and inspecting equipment. While the Terrex ICVs are state-of-the-art, the vehicles are not considered to be particularly sensitive military equipment.
A report from FactWire states that Hong Kong customs officials were tipped off by their mainland counterparts about a shipment of military vehicles without an “approval notice.” Meanwhile, Hong Kong customs maintained that the seizure was part of a routine inspection.
Singapore’s defense ministry has said that the shipment contained no ammunition or sensitive equipment, and it had contracted APL to handle the cargo.
To add a bit more intrigue, ministry officials also pointed out that after departing from Taiwan, the cargo ship actually docked in Xiamen before arriving in Hong Kong.
Currently, officials on both sides are remaining quiet about the particulars of the incident. It’s not clear whether APL had attained the required approval.
Of course, many observers see a lot more to this incident than just some missing paperwork. For decades, Singapore has carried out annual military training exercises in Taiwan, but now Beijing appears intent on severing those ties at a turbulent and possibly transformative time in the South China Sea region.
“I wish to reiterate that the Chinese government consistently and resolutely opposes any form of official exchanges, including military exchanges and cooperation, between countries with which we have diplomatic relations and the Taiwan region,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang added when speaking about the seizure on Friday.
At another press conference earlier today, Geng said that China had formally lodged a protest with Singapore over the seized Terrex ICVs.
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.
An editorial published yesterday in the Global Times warns:
For quite some time, Singapore has been pretending to seek a balance between China and the US, yet has been taking Washington’s side in reality. Singapore was never a military ally of the US, but has given the green light to US military forces’ long-term presence at its Changi Naval Base as well as allowing US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft to operate out of its airbases. This has turned Singapore into a platform for Washington to contain and deter Beijing. Singapore claimed it was not picking sides in the South China Sea disputes, but its remarks about the issue are far from neutral; instead, it has actually complicated and expanded the scale of the case.
It should be expected that a small country like Singapore has its own tactics of survival in games of major powers. The country, which used to know its boundaries, is losing its balance now. Its measures to contain China are becoming obvious. The military equipment seized by Hong Kong authorities this time further adds to the suspicion that Singapore might be working against the “one China” principle.
It should be understood that if public opinion about Singapore changes in China, it will turn into a huge blow to bilateral ties, result in a possible adjustment to Beijing’s foreign policies and profoundly impact Singapore’s economy.
Of course, the incident also occurs after the election of Donald Trump in the US. While no one can really say what a Trump presidency will look like, many experts believe that his isolationist policies will encourage China to expand its power in the region. Severing a military alliance that it dislikes via the Hong Kong customs office could be an experimental first step into an even more forceful attitude going forward.
[Images via Apple Daily]
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