China airs views on seized armoured vehicles as SAF team reaches Hong Kong

The armoured vehicles covered with green tarpaulins in a Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department facility in Tuen Mun yesterday. Nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles were seized by Hong Kong Customs at a port on Wednesday. They were being shipped fr
The armoured vehicles covered with green tarpaulins in a Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department facility in Tuen Mun yesterday. Nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles were seized by Hong Kong Customs at a port on Wednesday. They were being shipped from Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan to Singapore and were intercepted during a routine inspection.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers have arrived in Hong Kong "to address the security" of nine Singapore-bound armoured vehicles seized by Hong Kong Customs at a port on Wednesday, which have since been moved to a storage space for further investigations.

This comes as China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said all personnel and goods entering Hong Kong should follow local laws, when asked if China is responsible for the seizure at a routine press briefing yesterday.

He reiterated that Beijing "firmly opposes any of the countries that have diplomatic ties with them (China) to have any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, including defence exchanges and cooperation".

The vehicles - identified by the SAF to be Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles - were being shipped from Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan to Singapore by Japanese-owned container shipping firm APL. They were intercepted during a routine inspection involving checks for explosives. It is not known why the ship had stopped by Hong Kong.

Asked if Singapore would have to contact Beijing for the release of the vehicles, Mr Geng said China is verifying details of the incident, and did not address what steps would follow.

The 12 containers used for the SAF vehicles and other equipment have been moved to a temporary Customs storage space in Tuen Mun for further investigations, a Customs and Excise Department spokesman told The Straits Times.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said all commercial shippers used by the SAF have to follow strict requirements. "These requirements have worked well and there have been no incidents of losses, theft or tampering over the years," it said.

APL has "assured the SAF that they are working with Hong Kong authorities to resolve the issue", said Mindef. APL was required to comply with all regulations, including declaring the transported equipment in the ship's cargo manifest and getting the necessary permits.

The cargo comprises nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles "with no ammunition or sensitive equipment on board", said Mindef. The Singapore Consulate-General in Hong Kong is helping to resolve the issue.

Mr Song Zhongping, a military analyst for Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, said that as Hong Kong does not conduct its own foreign and defence affairs, this issue would be handled by Beijing. "The Singapore Defence Ministry will have to explain why these vehicles went to Taiwan and what were they used for," he said.

South-east Asia expert Xu Liping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the vehicles will be released in due course, especially in the light of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting early next month. The JCBC is an annual high-level bilateral platform to discuss ways to deepen and broaden Singapore-China cooperation.

The SAF conducts overseas training in a dozen or so countries. In doing so, it hires commercial shippers to transport military equipment.

Mindef said yesterday that the SAF "will review the circumstances of this incident and determine if added measures are required to prevent such occurrences".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'China airs views on seized armoured vehicles as SAF team reaches HK'. Print Edition | Subscribe