Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen admitted that the capture of the Terrex armoured vehicles by Hong Kong authorities was a setback to ties with China but insisted that the relations with the regional super power were fundamentally strong.
"For most Singaporeans, Mindef and the SAF included, the detention of our Terrexes by Hong Kong authorities was a low point in 2016 from the defence perspective," Ng said.
Ng said Singapore has been trying to retrieve the military assets held in Hong Kong and that parleys are happening away from the limelight all these past two months. He added that Singapore had learnt lessons from the seizure of the armoured vehicles and that the country will take measures to better protect its military assets.
The Singapore-bound military vehicles were seized in November as they were shipped back from Taiwan where the Singapore armed forces were conducting training exercises. The capture of vehicles 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.
Ng said in a Facebook post that Singapore must not dwell on the setback and move ahead. "Neither should Singaporeans allow this one incident to shake our confidence or weaken our solidarity ... We are a sovereign and independent country, and we will chart our own future," Ng wrote.
China's Global Times had launched stern criticism of Singapore over its Taiwan ties after the carriers were intercepted by Hong Kong customs. 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.
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.
In his latest statement over the Terrex military vehicle issue, Ng sought to underplay its impact on bilateral relations with China. "We may not see eye to eye on every issue, but that is the norm of bilateral relations between any two independent and sovereign nations," Ng said.
"Our relations with countries like the US, China and India are fundamentally strong and healthy," he added.
"The Terrex issue does not pose an existential threat or even a potential threat as say, terrorism does today. And the SAF must not lose focus or allow that one issue to dominate all else," Ng concluded.