This post is part of the series SAF Vehicle Seize
Other posts in this series:
TL;DR – A look back at how Project Starlight came to be
For a while now, we have been talking on this blog about how much things change and how quickly things change. We cannot emphasize enough the very rapid and sweeping changes that are happening in every aspect of our lives and in practically every country. Think Brexit, think Trump, and yes, think of how the relationship between Singapore and China has turned from toasty-warm to the current cautious mood.
We really, really need to stay alert and be adaptable during this era where sea change is the norm rather than the exception.
Yes, you have to be cut off from the world totally if you still haven’t heard about our nine military vehicles that are being seized in Hong Kong. Yes, it has got to do with Project Starlight, a training arrangement Singapore has made with Taiwan for decades. Girls, remember how your boyfriends gotta go for overseas training either in Brunei or Taiwan? Yup, that’s the one – Project Starlight.
A Quick Look at What Project Starlight is
While the Singapore Armed Forces train in quite a few different countries, including Brunei, United States and Australia, our Project Starlight arrangement with Taiwan is possibly one of the longest-standing arrangements. It dates back to 1975.
This was an arrangement made between then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Premier Chiang Ching-kuo, and we had needed overseas training as Singapore had and still has very limited land and airspace.
What is China’s Stand on Project Starlight?
Did you know Singapore was the last country in ASEAN to establish formal diplomatic ties with China? Anyway, that was back in 1990, and Mr Lee had said then that our SAF units’ training in Taiwan would continue.
Then Chinese Premier Li Peng had also said during a visit to Singapore in 1990 that Beijing would not be “too disturbed” if we were to continued Project Starlight. And this was after the establishment of Sino-Singapore ties. Mr Li had reportedly said,
“We sympathise with Singapore’s position and understand its need to build a strong defence force. On this matter, suitable arrangements will be made.”
The key thing is Singapore must respect the One China policy and stress our One China position. And we have, and Beijing had not been overly disturbed by our military training in Taiwan all this while. So, are they really concerned and disturbed now? What has changed? How have things changed? Is the seize really about us? If China is trying to show its muscles, we really need to ask for whom it is flexing its muscles for.
Anyway, we came across an interesting Facebook post on S Jayakumar’s books, Diplomacy: A Singapore Experience.
Here, we’ve reproduced the excerpt for you here too,
For now, we suggest that we all remain alert and cautious, but let’s not play alarmists. For a small nation like us, international laws of the world are important to us and we can only rely on these, and be principled enough that we aren’t easily bought over.
There’re voices in some quarters that proclaim we have been too hard, too tough and unfriendly to China when they needed us to be their side, even if it’s against the rules of the law in the world. But once we succumb and be their mouthpiece, do you really think they will stop there? It’s best to stay as neutral and independent as possible, and not take sides.
1. Vivian Balakrishnan: Of old friends and keeping up with the times
2. Beijing wants a united ASEAN, but ‘for it, not against it’
Continue reading this series:
Finally, Singapore’s political leaders speak up about our APCs