This post is part of the series SAF Vehicle Seize
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TL;DR – We will wait for facts
It’s been a few days since the news that our nine amoured personnel carriers (APCs) were impounded by Hong Kong while it made they made their way to Singapore from Taiwan. For quite some time after the incident first got reported, Singapore’s political leaders have kept silent (we believe deliberately and purposefully so!)
But now, they have spoken up.
What our Minister of Defence said
At a media briefing, our Minister of Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen stated that Singapore will exercise our “full rights” in recovering the vehicles. He said that the shipping contractor, APL, which shipped the vehicles have met Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday. Dr Ng said:
“After this meeting, the reasons and legal basis for detention will be made clear. We have to wait for the outcome of the meeting. MINDEF (Ministry of Defence) and the Singapore Government will then commence proceedings to recover assets. We aim to comply with all regulations and then exercise our full rights in recovering our assets.”
Dr Ng also highlighted out that Singapore fully respects, supports and adheres to the one-China policy and will continue to do so. He also pointed out that it’s SAF’s training exercises overseas “never have been secret”. More importantly, Dr Ng stressed that we shouldn’t impute motives. He said:
“People know where we train openly … and any training matters between us and other countries are bilateral. We should not, until the facts come out, muddle the picture and impute various motives. SAF will continue to train overseas based on existing agreements between countries.”
As to why military equipment was shipped using a commercial shipping contractor, Dr Ng reiterated what Chief-of-Army Major General Melvyn Ong said – that Singapore has had this practice for a very long time:
“Singapore has been doing it ever since we’ve had overseas training, over many decades and thousands of ships. There has been no loss or detention.”
Apparently, according to MG Ong, it’s not just Singapore that does this. MG Ong said:
“It’s a commonly adopted means. Many militaries use it consistently… during peacetime training. It’s the most cost-effective and efficient means of transporting large amounts of equipment.”
MG Ong also pointed out that no sensitive equipment was in that shipment that was impounded. But he noted that the shipping contractor is responsible for applying “for all necessary permits (and) all regulatory requirements while travelling and at ports of call. The contractor has to be responsible for this.”
But this isn’t just a military issue. It is more of a foreign affairs issue. That’s why it’s important to know what our Minister of Foreign Affairs said.
What our Minister of Foreign Affairs said
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, stressed that we will not let a single issue hijack our relationship with China. He pointed out that even though we may have disagreements from time to time, Singapore and China has a longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship. And even when we have disagreements, Singapore has been “very consistent and transparent” in our position.
But no matter what disagreements we may have on specific issues, Singapore supports the One China policy. More importantly, we value our longstanding relationships. Dr Vivian said:
“One thing in Chinese culture is you never forget your old friends, people who were there with you in the beginning, people who were there with you through thick and thin, and surely in Chinese culture you appreciate this concept of loyalty to old friends. At the same time, you know full well where I stand, and I believe in One China and we will not deviate from that, we have not changed.”
Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, Mr Bilahari Kausikan, gave his perspective on the impact of this incident on the broader Sino-Singapore relationship in a Facebook comment:
“They do want to preserve the broader relationship — one sign is that the ship called at two Chinese ports before HK and they could have seized the APCs there which would have been a bigger deal. Actually it is quite usual for countries to quarrel on one issue while cooperating or continuing as normal on others.”
This is an important message. No rational country will let such a small issue hurt longstanding and mutually beneficial interests.
Keep calm and carry on
There are still many areas where the interests of Singapore and China are aligned. For example, Singapore was one of the first few countries who expressed interest to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) when China first proposed it. And three Singaporeans hold senior positions in AIIB.
Given our longstanding and (still) mutually beneficial relationship, the best thing for both sides to do is to keep calm and carry on.
AIIB is a China-led bank that has just opened its door in January, and it is aimed at financing infrastructure development around Asia.
Although the world already has development banks such as Japan-led Asian Development Bank (ADB) and US-led World Bank, these are not enough. A 2009 ADB study estimated that Asia will face an infrastructure funding shortfall of US$8 trillion by 2020.
ADB has a capital base of US$160 billion and the World Bank US$223 billion. AIIB has an authorised capital of US$100 billion.
Most of the major economies in the world have joined AIIB, including most of Asia including Australia and Western Europe. Even Britain and Canada have signed up despite protests from the US. Curiously (or maybe not!), Taiwan and North Korea applied too, but were rejected.
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Yo China, go pick on someone your own size, can?