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Seizure of armoured vehicles by Hong Kong customs: China lodges complaint with Singapore

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Following the seizure of the nine armoured vehicles by Hong Kong customs, China has lodged a protest with Singapore today (28 Nov). The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Geng Shuang at a routine press briefing in Beijing on 25 Nov said that the Chinese government was still in the midst of “verifying the related details”.

He said, “all ships that enter Hong Kong should follow the laws of the Special Administrative Region.” Adding: “We oppose countries that have diplomatic relations with us to have any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, including defence cooperation.”

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) announced on 26 Nov that the nine armoured vehicles seized by the Hong Kong customs department has been shifted to a secured access-controlled area within the Hong Kong Customs depot at the River Trade Terminal. It further said that the containers with the armoured vehicles which were opened for inspection have also been resealed by the Hong Kong Customs.

The SAF however did not say if the team met with the Hong Kong or Chinese officials to resolve the matter, or if they were making any headway in ensuring the successful return of the vehicles to Singapore. The team from SAF in Hong Kong have met up with APL representatives to assess the situation.

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The nine armoured vehicles were found in twelve seized containers. The containers were found on a cargo ship from Kaohsiung, Taiwan to Singapore and it was passing through Hong Kong. Hong Kong based investigative journalism news site Factwire was the first to report on the seizures.

Factwire said pictures of the vehicles – covered in blue or grey wraps – could only be shot from air and that the vehicles were being guarded by at least two customs officers. It further said that one unwrapped vehicle was shared yesterday on a social media page for container terminal workers.

picture credit: Factwire
picture credit: Factwire

Citing sources close to the investigators, the news site reported that it is unclear why the shipment was unloaded at Hong Kong because there was no intention to do so. The seizures are said to be one of the biggest seizures of strategic commodities in two decades. The Hong Kong administration had previously confiscated military equipments which shipped through its ports. A license is needed to ship strategic commodities like military equipment overseas. The maximum penalty for not having one is an unlimited fine and seven years in prison.

The Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) reported in the year 2004 that, China has never been happy with aspects of Singapore’s relations with Taiwan.

“<…> but Beijing hasn’t allowed that to stand in the way of warm ties with predominantly Chinese Singapore. The island republic has made amends, in Beijing’s eyes, by adopting a “one-China” policy and vigorously opposing Taiwan independence. Singapore’s leaders have also offered their expertise to help China develop, notably with a government-sponsored industrial park in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.

Beijing’s main objection, rarely voiced publicly, is that Singapore’s armed forces train in Taiwan. It is an open secret, though never acknowledged by the Singapore government, that its military has used Taiwan since the 1970s for large combined-arms exercises. Singapore lacks the open space for military manoeuvres, and regards the use of Taiwan as vital for national security. Singapore pays Taipei for the use of its facilities, but does not train with the Taiwan military.

Beijing has offered Singapore the use of Hainan Island in southern China as an alternative training site, but the Singaporeans don’t take the offer seriously. They say privately that their non-Chinese neighbours often suspect that Singapore is fronting for China, and to switch military training to the People’s Republic would tend to confirm those fears.”

Beijing-controlled Global Times described Singapore’s continued use of Taiwan’s military base as ‘hypocrisy’. It said:

“In 2012, Singapore claimed it would suspend bilateral military cooperation with the island. However the recently detained vessel with its cargo of armored vehicles reveals Singapore’s hypocrisy.

For quite some time, Singapore has been pretending to seek a balance between China and the US, yet has been taking Washington’s side in reality. Singapore was never a military ally of the US, but has given the green light to US military forces’ long-term presence at its Changi Naval Base as well as allowing US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft to operate out of its airbases. This has turned Singapore into a platform for Washington to contain and deter Beijing. Singapore claimed it was not picking sides in the South China Sea disputes, but its remarks about the issue are far from neutral; instead, it has actually complicated and expanded the scale of the case.”

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