Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday that he hopes the nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles that were held in Hong Kong will be back in Singapore before the traditional 15 days of the Chinese New Year ends.
He was speaking to reporters a day after Hong Kong said it would release the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles and other equipment that have been held since Nov 23 to the Singapore Government, through the carrier.
"Mindef and SAF are in close communications with the carrier APL, and assisting it to ensure there is a smooth repatriation of the SAF Terrexes," Dr Ng said.
APL has told the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) that it would expedite their return once they are released, and that it will ship the vehicles without making any stops, he added.
"Even then, that seaward passage from Hong Kong to Singapore directly will take about a week. Hopefully, the Terrexes can leave Hong Kong soon, and arrive in Singapore to celebrate reunion for Chap Goh Mei," he told reporters after visiting a disaster relief planning exercise at Changi Naval Base.
PROGRESS UPDATES TO COME
Mindef and SAF are in close communications with the carrier APL, and assisting it to ensure there is a smooth repatriation of the SAF Terrexes... We will keep Singaporeans updated about the progress and the journey of the SAF Terrexes.
DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN
"We will keep Singaporeans updated about the progress and the journey of the SAF Terrexes."
Chap Goh Mei, or the 15th night of the Chinese New Year, is the last day of Chinese New Year celebrations. This year, it falls on Feb 11.
On Tuesday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying had informed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that the Hong Kong authorities had completed their investigations and would be releasing the Terrex vehicles to Singapore.
Dr Ng said yesterday that the conclusion of the investigation and the decision to release the Terrexes was "a positive outcome".
"It reflects the good and friendly relations between Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China and Singapore," he added.
Hong Kong Customs had seized the nine vehicles and other equipment on board a container ship transiting there. The vehicles were bound for Singapore after an SAF military exercise in Taiwan.
Hong Kong Commissioner of Customs and Excise Roy Tang said on Tuesday that the investigation of a suspected breach of the law was completed and might lead to criminal prosecution.
Earlier media reports said APL had failed to provide appropriate permits for the vehicles.
Yesterday, Mr Tang said APL could move the Terrexes once all the paperwork is completed.
"We did not identify any information which points to the possibility of the Singapore Government being involved in the breach of the licensing conditions," he said.
Asked by reporters whether Beijing had any role in the case, he said: "Hong Kong Customs is only authorised to enforce the Hong Kong law.
"We have no role to play in any enforcement or work other than laws applicable to Hong Kong, so there is no such implication."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying was also asked at a daily media briefing in Beijing yesterday if the decision was reached only by the Hong Kong government, or if Beijing had instructed it to do so.
"It was a violation of Hong Kong law to ship Singaporean armoured vehicles to Hong Kong without acquiring a permit," she said, adding that Hong Kong handled the incident in accordance with the law.
"It is hoped that Singapore will cooperate with the SAR government in the follow-up procedures and draw lessons from the incident."
She added: "Let me re-emphasise that the Taiwan question concerns China's core interests.
"And the 'one China' principle is the prerequisite and political foundation for China to establish and develop relations with other countries.
"The Chinese government firmly opposes any forms of official interactions, including military-to-military exchanges and cooperation, between Taiwan and countries that have diplomatic ties with us.
"China has made representations to Singapore over the relevant incident and hopes that the Government of Singapore will faithfully adhere to the 'one China' principle."