Coming under pressure from China over the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles seized in Hong Kong, Singapore has made it clear it is determined to retrieve its military equipment.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the government is watching the outcome of the meeting between Hong Kong officials and the shipping contractor APL before deciding "an appropriate course of action".
"After this meeting, the reasons and legal basis for detention will be made clear. MINDEF 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," Ng said, according to Channel News Asia. Officials from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are in Hong Kong to pursue the matter further, the minister said.
The Singapore government will "comply with all regulations and then exercise our full rights in recovering our assets," the minister said.
On Monday, China warned Singapore over ties with Taiwan and the Chinese foreign ministry lodged a formal protest with Singapore after the armoured troop carriers were intercepted in Hong Kong last week.
For Beijing, Singapore's formal ties with Taiwan, which it claims is a breakaway Chinese territory, is objectionable. Global Times, the communist party mouthpiece, accused the island nation of hypocrisy after nine military tanks were seized as they were being shipped from Taiwan.
Singapore has long had warm ties with Taiwan, where its military personnel take part in training sessions.
Global Times said Singapore was deliberately undermining the One-China principle which espouses the eventual merger of Taiwan with mainland under the same flag. Singapore's military and other ties with Taiwan go back to the 1970s but China says Singapore should not have continued the military partnership after it established diplomatic ties with Beijing in the 1990s.
Singapore's top brass tried to assuage the Chinese sentiments saying the island nation respects the One-China principle. Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the carrier incident will not be allowed to ruin the diplomatic ties with China.
Interestingly, both Balakrishnan and Ng stressed that military training in Taiwan was not shielded from China. "You all know, and everyone including China knows, that we have had special arrangements with Taiwan for a long time," said Balakrishnan.
At the same time, Ng said: "People know where we train... and any training matters between us and other countries are bilateral. SAF will continue to train overseas based on existing agreements between countries."
Political observers immediately read meanings into this open revelation that the Taiwan ties were not part of any secret agenda. 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.