SAF vehicle seizure: China voices unhappiness to Singapore

Beijing asks Republic to abide by Hong Kong laws and cooperate with the SAR govt on all follow-ups

The nine armoured vehicles belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which were bound for Singapore after being used for overseas training, have been seized by Hong Kong Customs at a port in the city. PHOTO: FACTWIRE NEWS AGENCY

China has made representations to Singapore voicing unhappiness over the seizure by the Hong Kong Customs authorities of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) vehicles bound for the city state after a military exercise in Taiwan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said yesterday that China has asked Singapore to "strictly abide by the laws of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), and cooperate with the SAR government on all necessary follow-ups".

"The Chinese government has always firmly opposed countries that have diplomatic ties with China to have any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, including military exchanges and cooperation," he said at a regular media briefing

"We asked that the Singapore Government strictly abide by the one-China principle," he added.

China's move came after Hong Kong Customs officials seized nine SAF armoured vehicles and related equipment on board a container ship belonging to shipping firm APL.

The SAF conducts overseas training in a dozen or so territories and hires commercial shippers to transport military equipment to and from Singapore.

A report by Hong Kong's FactWire news agency last Saturday claimed that the APL container ship had docked in Xiamen in mainland China before transiting in Hong Kong.

The report said the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department was tipped off by its mainland counterparts about the nine SAF armoured vehicles, leading to their seizure in Hong Kong last Wednesday. It is not known why the Xiamen Customs authorities did not seize the vehicles but chose to tip off their Hong Kong counterparts instead.

When asked by The Straits Times about the report at yesterday's media briefing, Mr Geng said he had no further information.

The Xiamen Customs department told The Straits Times it was not allowed to speak to foreign media, when asked whether the APL ship produced the necessary paperwork for the clearance of the nine military vehicles.

Analysts say Beijing's protest did not come as a surprise as the issue of defence cooperation between Singapore and Taiwan came to light.

"For Beijing not to state its position robustly would jeopardise its longstanding position on Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province," Mr David Boey, who is a member of Mindef's Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (Accord), told The Straits Times.

Given the recent unhappiness among certain quarters of Chinese society with Singapore recently, it is inevitable that Beijing has to openly chide Singapore for this, according to Jinan University South-east Asia expert Zhang Mingliang.

While this move is a warning directed at both Taipei and Singapore, cross-strait expert Wang Weinan of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said this appears to be more targeted at Taipei.

"Under the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, cross-strait tensions have slowly heightened.

"This should ring an alarm bell for Taipei as it is yet another way for Beijing to constrain its international space," Dr Wang added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline SAF vehicle seizure: China voices unhappiness to Singapore. Subscribe