Singapore has been assured that the seizure of its military vehicles in Hong Kong will be handled through proper legal process, and the issue should not be politicised, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament yesterday.
He was responding to MPs' questions about how the seizure of nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex infantry carriers has affected Singapore's relations with China.
Noting that both Hong Kong and China have stated that the matter would be handled in accordance with Hong Kong's laws, he said: "Let's avoid politicising this and let's avoid megaphone diplomacy. Let's give this incident every opportunity to resolve itself in, I hope, an appropriate and sensible way."
This was a point he repeated several times in the House, as he urged MPs to "have some patience and give this matter time to resolve".
The SAF vehicles were on their way back to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan when they were seized in Hong Kong in November, and have not been returned.
Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore's relationship with China is a longstanding, multifaceted and mutually beneficial one, and should not be seen as a "zero-sum game".
"We believe in interdependence characterised by open, inclusive regional architecture that promotes collaboration and win-win outcomes," he said.
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) had questioned if China had respect for the law, saying if that were the case, the incident would not have happened. He also asked if China's economic progress has "made her arrogant and aggressive and become a big bully".
The minister said Singapore has long been a firm believer that a strong China that is "deeply engaged with the rest of the world and economically integrated" would bring enormous benefits. Citing China's achievements such as lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, he said these developments will bring opportunities but also "issues to resolve from time to time".
He said it was a reality of realpolitik that big countries would sometimes pressure other countries to "act entirely in line with their own national interests", adding that Singapore has encountered such expectations from time to time.
"However, it is important for us to conduct our foreign policy as a sovereign, independent nation, and not be seen as acting at the behest of any other country," he said.
This is essential to Singapore's international credibility, standing and relevance to its foreign partners and friends, he added.
Singapore has to maintain its emphasis on upholding international law, he said, as a rules-based international order is crucial for the survival and independence of small states.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked about the Chinese state-owned media's portrayal of the Terrex issue. The tabloid Global Times said in a November editorialthat the vehicles should be confiscated and melted down.
Dr Balakrishnan said there was no need for "megaphone diplomacy", adding: "I don't believe in... conducting affairs in a way which generates more heat than light."
He stressed that Singapore's relations with China and interactions with Hong Kong and Taiwan are "based strictly on our 'one China' policy". "We have consistently abided by this policy and the understandings reached when we established diplomatic relations with China in 1990. And we will continue to do so."
He called on all MPs to stand with the Government on its foreign policy. "This is one of those occasions for us to learn the right lessons, to stand together, because, ultimately, foreign policy begins at home."