The Straits Times says

Terrex return upholds rule of law

Singapore Armed Forces Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles, seen covered in grey and blue tarpaulins, are unloaded following their arrival at the PSA West Coast terminal port in Singapore on Jan 30, 2017, after being impounded in Hong Kong last November. PHOTO: AFP

The case of nine Singapore Armed Forces armoured vehicles, held in Hong Kong for more than two months, shows how the rule of law can help to resolve international problems when legal processes are aided by quiet and patient action that abjures megaphone diplomacy. Singapore's clear and consistent position was that the seizure of the Terrex infantry carriers did not comply with international or Hong Kong law. The vehicles being the property of the Singapore Government, they were protected by sovereign immunity. This meant that they could not legally be detained or confiscated by other countries.

It was reassuring earlier on when the Hong Kong authorities gave the assurance that the Special Administrative Region government would handle the matter according to its laws. They have since done so, and the vehicles are now back in Singapore. In the process, Hong Kong has upheld its reputation as a port and transshipment hub. Global ports cannot maintain their cutting edge unless customers believe that they will implement the rule of law stringently and transparently in their everyday dealings. There is nothing worse for hubs than to be suspected of acting under the duress of political or economic forces that make it difficult for them to disclose the real reasons for any action that they take.

Despite the speculation in the wilder fringes of social media that Hong Kong's action actually was a punitive move by China - namely, Beijing wanted to impress on Singapore the need to stop its military exercises with Taiwan, where the Terrex carriers had been before their aborted return to Singapore - wise and cool heads chose not to be drawn into a testy public exchange. Hong Kong dismissed talk of a conspiracy by reiterating the autonomy of its governing and administrative agencies under the one-country, two-systems formula which makes it a part of China.

In Singapore, too, the Terrex episode shone light on a few home traits. Not only did the Government show its preference for the civility of quiet diplomacy and adherence to established legal principles, but Singaporeans also helped the authorities to respond to this unprecedented issue rationally by not forcing their hand politically. Except for perpetually impressionable and excitable segments of the social media, Singaporeans generally expected their Government to deal with the issue in a way that would bring about practical and sound results. They also expect the right lessons to be learnt to avoid a repeat of the unfortunate episode. Getting into a wrangling match with others would not be productive. It is far better to take the long view, focusing on strengthening ties and resolving issues amicably, as two longstanding friends, always remembering past collaborations as well as future prospects .

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline Terrex return upholds rule of law. Subscribe