Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Leung Chun-ying has replied today to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s earlier letter to inform him that the Hong Kong authorities have completed their investigations, and will be releasing the SAF Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles and other equipment to the Singapore Government through the carrier.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs which released this news described this as a “positive outcome”. The Ministry said that Prime Minister Lee has replied to Chief Executive Leung to thank him for Hong Kong’s cooperation in resolving this matter.
Nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV) were seized by Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department in November last year. The vehicles were enroute to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan via commercial shipping firm APL. The Ministry of Defence said in an earlier statement that the armoured vehicles were impounded over licensing issues.
The detention of the ICVs were a low point in Singapore’s relationship with China. Relationship seem to have grown warmer in recent weeks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin’s visit to Singapore on 17 Jan to co-chair the 10th Bilateral Consultations between the Singapore and Chinese Foreign Ministries.
Foreign Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, indicated in Parliament earlier this month that the Singapore Government prefers to await a legal resolution to the issue of the armoured vehicles seized in Hong Kong over open dialogue with China.
In response to questions from several Members of Parliament (MPs), Dr Balakrishnan said:
“It is best that this matter be handled through the legal process…There is no need to politicise it, no need to engage in megaphone diplomacy. So let’s have some patience, give this matter time to resolve through appropriate legal or judicial process…Our relations with China and our interactions with Hong Kong and Taiwan are based strictly on our one-China policy. We have consistently abided by this policy and understandings reached when we established diplomatic relations with China in 1990, and we will continue to do so.”
The Foreign Minister also urged all Singaporeans, regardless of political affiliations, to remain united over the issue, not panic and understand the big picture.
The impounding of the Singapore Armed Forces’ Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department is not unprecedented. In September 2010, a South Korean K-21 light tank and armored personnel carrier was seized by Hong Kong authorities while being shipped from Saudi Arabia back to South Korea. The military equipment was subsequently returned to South Korea through China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Associate Professor Bernard Loo of S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies had earlier written that “the vehicles will be returned to Singapore is beyond doubt; it is merely a question of how long Singapore will have to wait before they are returned. That waiting time is a message from China to Singapore.”
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong in speaking to South China Morning Post on the incident said: “Beijing could use this chance to give the city state a hard time [in retaliation for] Singapore’s stand on the South China Sea issue.”
In July last year following the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines, Singapore urged “all parties to fully respect legal and diplomatic processes”. The court ruled that Beijing has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and that it has breached Manila’s sovereign rights with its actions. China dismissed the case as a farce.