China has firmly asked Singapore to abide by the “One China” principle after recently impounding military vehicles of the city state in Hong Kong. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was quoted by the South China Morning Post, as saying that Beijing has made a diplomatic representation to Singapore over its decision to order customs officers in Hong Kong to seize nine Singapore combat vehicles that were en route from Taiwan earlier this week.
“We demand Singapore strictly abide by the one-China principle. The Chinese government resolutely opposes nations with diplomatic ties with China to have any form of official contacts with Taiwan, including military exchanges and cooperation,” he said. Observers have said that the diplomatic protest should be seen as a warning to both Singapore and Taipei, which have seen their relationships with Beijing deteriorate.
In this context, it may be noted that military ties between Singapore and Taiwan go back more than four decades. In 1974, Singapore and Taipei initiated “Project Starlight”, which gave Singaporean troops much needed physical room to carry out exercises on the self-ruled island.
In the recent past, Beijing has also accused Singapore of being intractable over the South China Sea related disputes. It has also cut off official communication with Taiwan after Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party came into power in May.
Meanwhile, APL, the company hired by the Singapore Armed Forces to transport the military vehicles, said in a statement it has been cooperating with the authorities in Hong Kong and was working with all concerned stakeholders. The South China Morning Post, however, quoted Euan Graham, director of the international security programme of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, as saying that Beijing’s diplomatic protest should be seen as a punishment intended to deter Singapore from being outspoken on the South China Sea. Graham was quoted, as saying,
“On one hand, it is a punishment intended to deter Singapore from being outspoken on the South China Sea. On the other hand, it is aimed at further isolating Taiwan’s new DPP-led government.” Li Jie, a retired Chinese naval colonel, was quoted, as saying, “It is also a warning to other countries not to get too close to a pro-independence Taiwan administration. China will not compromise its core interests when it comes to the matter of principles.”
Wang Hanling, a maritime law specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Singapore’s ties with Taipei were less of a concern to Beijing than Singapore’s ties with the United States. But Taiwanese and regional security observers said Taiwan would continue military exchanges with other nations, and Singapore might become more eager to establish military ties with other countries. Alexander Huang, former vice-minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, was quoted, as saying, “If both sides want to continue such cooperation, I don’t think it would be affected by any third party.”