Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has asked Hong Kong to immediately return the Terrex armoured vehicles seized in November while they were shipped back from Taiwan. Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen confirmed this and said Hong Kong authorities responded saying that the investigation is ongoing and will take some time to complete.
The nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles belong to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). Ng said the prime minister wrote to Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung to return the military vehicles and uphold Singapore's sovereign rights over its assets.
"The Hong Kong authorities have responded that the investigation is ongoing and will take some time to complete, and that the Hong Kong government will handle the matter in accordance with their laws," Ng added, according to the Channel News Asia.
Ng said he expected Hong Kong to adhere to international principles that mandate countries to accept the principle of sovereign immunity, which ensures the state properties and military assets are immune from constraints abroad.
"Singapore and Hong Kong have long enjoyed good and friendly relations. We hope the matter will be resolved satisfactorily and our friendly relations will endure," Ng added.
The capture of the Terrex vehicles had kicked up a diplomatic storm. The military vehicles belonging to the Singapore armed forces were conducting training exercises in Taiwan, a factor that China did not take kindly to. The detention of Singapore's military assets was seen as China's retaliation against Singapore, which supported the International court's ruling that deprived China of wholesale claim to the disputed South China Sea.
Statements from the diplomats of both the courtiers revealed that something was amiss in the way China viewed Singapore's relations with Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province. Though Singapore's military and other ties with Taiwan go back to the 1970s China's stance is that the island nation should not have continued the military partnership after it established diplomatic ties with Beijing in the 1990s.
China's Global Times added fuel to the fire by launching stern criticism of Singapore over its Taiwan ties. The communist party mouthpiece accused the island nation of hypocrisy adding that Singapore was deliberately undermining the One-China principle which espouses the eventual merger of Taiwan with mainland under the same flag.
Singapore SDF's armoured vehicles seized in Hong Kong should be melted down as per the wishes of the Chinese people, he daily added. "Singapore's image in China is now so poor that the Chinese people feel that those armoured vehicles that 'came walking right into our trap' should be 'confiscated' and sent to the steel mills to be melted down," the paper said.
The immediate response in Singapore was that China acted up over the tanks to express its displeasure with Singapore over its stance in the South China Sea dispute.