BEIJING: A Chinese state newspaper on Tuesday criticized Singapore over the Southeast Asian city-state’s military training with self-governing Taiwan, following the impounding of nine Singaporean infantry fighting vehicles transiting through Hong Kong.
The Communist Party-run Global Times said in an editorial Tuesday that Singapore was responsible for the incident, but gave no details about what laws or regulations have been broken by the shipping of the armored vehicles from Taiwan. The vehicles were being sent to Singapore from Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan, after a military exercise there, when they were seized on Wednesday by Hong Kong.
The editorial said China has long opposed all forms of military cooperation between other countries and Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a breakaway province to be reunited with by force if necessary.
“China opposes the outside world having any form of military cooperation or exchange with Taiwan,” the paper said. “Singapore, a state that has diplomatic relations with China, should be cautious in this regard.”
Singapore’s defense minister, Ng Eng Hen, said Tuesday that the city-state supports the “one-China” principle – Beijing’s view that the mainland and Taiwan are part of a single Chinese nation – and that Singapore is open about its overseas training arrangements.
“Any training matters between us and other countries are bilateral, and we should not unnecessarily, until the facts come out, muddle the picture and impute various motives,” he said.
Ng said Singapore “plays a positive role in cross-strait relations, and we will continue to do so,” citing as an example the city-state’s hosting of a historic meeting last year between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s then-president, Ma Ying-jeou.
On Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that Beijing has lodged a complaint with Singapore following the seizure of the vehicles. Geng Shuang reiterated China’s opposition to military and other exchanges between Taiwan and the countries China has ties with.
“We urge the Singaporean government to stay committed to the one-China principle,” Geng said at a regular briefing.
Last week, Singapore’s defense ministry sent a team to Hong Kong to ensure the security of the eight-wheeled Singapore-made Terrex infantry carrier vehicles that were held by Hong Kong customs on Wednesday. It said the vehicles were not carrying ammunition or sensitive equipment and that the team would “assess the situation.”
Singapore’s army chief, Maj. Gen. Melvyn Ong, said Tuesday that the vehicles had been shipped commercially and the military was still attempting to ascertain the reason for the detainment.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper has said Singaporean authorities would need to contact China’s foreign ministry to get the vehicles back. The militaries of Taiwan and Singapore have long trained together, much to the irritation of Beijing.
The seizure also comes amid Chinese displeasure over Singapore’s calls for China to heed international rulings over territorial claims in the South China Sea, which Beijing says belongs to it almost in its entirety. China says international law has no jurisdiction over the matter.
Some experts have speculated that China would use the seized military shipment to pressure Singapore to adopt a friendlier stance toward China on the dispute.