This post is part of the series SAF Vehicle Seize
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TL;DR – like… maybe… you know… USA?
Nine amoured personnel carriers (APCs) were impounded by Hong Kong while they made their way to Singapore from Taiwan. Since then, there were many theories about what led to that. Could it be that the commercial shipping company, APL, that SAF engaged to transport the APCs bungled the paperwork? But many theories suggest that it’s not as simple as that.
One theory is that China is upset with Singapore for our comments on the South China Sea issue. Another theory is that China is upset with Singapore for our relationship with Taiwan. Yet another theory suggests that China is upset that Singapore is friendly to USA instead of being completely loyal and reliant on China. Then there’s the theory that it’s a combination of all of the above.
No matter what caused China to be upset with Singapore, the way it is treating Singapore is starting to show it up as a petty bully. And recent events have demonstrated that even more.
What recent events?
The call that should have trumped our military training in Taiwan
The presumptive President-Elect of the USA, Mr Donald J. Trump spoke on the phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan. It was just a 10-minute telephone conversation. But it’s the first time that a President-Elect or President of USA spoke directly to the President of Taiwan since 1979. As if that’s not bad enough, Mr Trump referred to Ms Tsai as “President Tsai” in a tweet. And worse, he shrugged it off even as the initial gasps of shock and objections flowed in.
Why is this such a big deal?
Because China doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of Ms Tsai or any of her predecessors. To China, Taiwan isn’t an independent sovereign country, but rather as part of China. As such, to China, any leader of any country who dares to suggest that Taiwan’s President isn’t the President of China is committing a grave diplomatic mistake. Surely China wouldn’t let such an incident slide and would kick up a huge fuss.
Or so we thought.
Yes, after the incident, China did lodge “stern representations” with the “relevant U.S. side”, urging the Taiwan issue be handled carefully to avoid unnecessary disturbances in ties. China’s Foreign Ministry said:
“The one China principle is the political basis of the China-U.S. relationship”
But that’s it. No other action taken.
In fact, it seemed that China wasn’t even really blaming Mr Trump or the USA for the incident. Instead, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi specifically blamed Taiwan for this incident:
“This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community.”
Singapore conducting military training in Taiwan is really just a storm in a teacup compared to the magnitude of significance of what Mr Trump had done. Singapore has consistently stated our support of the One China policy. More importantly, we do not conduct joint military training exercises with Taiwan. Instead, we just use their land to train our own soldiers.
In contrast, USA is required BY LAW to defend Taiwan if China invades. And in 2015, USA and Taiwan bolstered military ties. Their cooperation now range from planned weapons deliveries to invitations for senior Taiwanese defence officers to take part in major US military activities in the Pacific.
So if China really has issues with Singapore using Taiwanese land to train our own soldiers, it should have been really hostile to USA by now. But… well… who cares about consistency right? Especially not if you are a big, powerful nation with the option of bullying smaller countries in your neighbourhood. Especially since they seem to not want to accept the fact that we’re not a Chinese nation.
So what should we do?
When faced with a big bully, what would you do? Sure. You shouldn’t go and pick a fight against him. You shouldn’t provoke him. But if you are just going about your own life, minding your own business, doing the things you need to find your place in the world, and then the bully comes and intimidates you, what should you do? Back off? Bow down? Kiss his feet? Bend over backwards to do his bidding?
No. We are not spineless. We are not without our principles. Yes. We do not pick fights with anyone. But we stand by our principles – principles such as all nations, big or small, should abide by international law, and that under no circumstances should any one country threaten any other country’s freedom of navigation.
Therefore, while we will remain friendly and seek to advance our common interests with all nations, we will not simply roll over and accede to all the demands of any nation. Not even if that nation is big and powerful. If we did that, we end up becoming a vassal state of that country. No. That we are not and shall never be. We are an independent and sovereign nation. We’re not China’s prodigal son who has refused to go home.
So, if China wants to find someone to show its might to, perhaps it should pick on someone its own size. Otherwise, if it’s just looking to bully someone, it would probably have better chance of succeeding picking on some other country.
Meanwhile here in Singapore, we have to be prepared to deal with the rise of aspiring superpower. Beijing is likely to become more prickly and will test us, and challenge our long-held strategy of being friends with all.
In this new normal, nothing will be easy.
Continue reading this series:
China has spoken about our Terrexes, and it seems they agree with us