For more than 40 years, Singapore Armed Forces have been training in Taiwan under the codename Starlight. This was an open secret without any party making an issue out of it. China could have protested but chose to close an eye and over the years everyone seemed to take this unusual relationship for granted.
Today, arising from the landing of Terrex armoured vehicles in Hong Kong and now impounded for not having the proper papers, the issue has escalated. China is now making an official protest to Singapore’s relationship with Taiwan on the ground that those countries recognizing one China should not have official govt to govt relations with Taiwan. Now what?
This is the first time that China has rebuked Singapore openly demanding that Singapore observed the rule of law in its relations with China under the One China Policy. Before this, Singapore enjoyed a very special relationship with China, carefully crafted and nurtured under the skilful hands of Lee Kuan Yew. This special relationship allowed Singapore to have very close ties with the Americans, the arch enemy of China and persistently trying to contain China and creating trouble for China, and also Singapore’s nebulous military training in Taiwan. All was good when relationship was kept at an even keel.
Things started to change when the Americans took an aggressive stand towards China in the South China Sea. Working hands in gloves with Japan and instigating the Aquino govt to take China to The Hague Tribunal and to make matter worst, turning the permanent arbitration court into a kangaroo court against China. All this got nothing to do with Singapore until Singapore started to take the side of the Americans demanding that China accept the dubious rulings of the court, that China must abide by its rulings, and kept repeating that China must obey the rule of law, abide by international law as if China was not. Many other sordid events followed suit culminating in some unnecessary remarks at the Peru APEC Summit.
Why would a little Red Dot think it is its duty and right to keep telling China what to do and think that China is hapless and would have to tolerate its demands? Though the Chinese govt did not say anything officially, the social media and other semi official media were rife in their attacks against Singapore for being on the side of the Americans and being anti China.
The writing was on the wall. Singapore did not see it coming? With its top diplomats making unfriendly comments, claiming to be speaking in their personal capacity as ‘ordinary citizens’ and brushed aside as non events in Parliament unchastised, did not go unnoticed.
Now the climax of this saga, 9 or is it 12 Singapore made Terrex armoured vehicles landed in Hong Kong port, carried by American President Line. Why did the vehicles landed in Hong Kong when they were not supposed to be there, on transit from Taiwan to Singapore? There is absolutely no reason for the armoured vehicles to be unloaded on to Hong Kong port. How did it happen, who did it and on what purpose? What is the agenda, or is there an agenda?
The APL or its employees cannot be so stupid to do such a thing. Armoured vehicles are weapons of war, prohibited unless proper documentations are done, often with diplomatic clearance. But why, why were the armoured vehicles in Hong Kong when they were bound for Singapore? Did someone intentionally unloaded them and then tipped off the Chinese authorities to create a tiff between the two countries?
Another big question, these are military weapons. Were they secured, were there guards to protect them from mischief? Were security protocol in place to keep terrorists or trouble makers away from the armoured vehicles? It is unbelieveable and shocking that such weapons are left to commercial shippers without being accompanied by military guards and treated like scrap cars, leave them wherever also can.
What’s next? How would this strange episode be resolved now that Lee Kuan Yew is not around and Hsien Loong has not been too friendly with his comments on China? Could Singapore punch above its weight against China? Or would the Americans and its cronies be egging the Singapore govt to stand up to China just like the Aquino govt? Would there be another Hague Tribunal, backed by the UN to rule against China and the rulings be legal and binding?
With the Philippines not wanting to be the barking dog for the Americans, are the Americans looking for a replacement in Singapore to provoke China and raise tension again in the region? If so, would Singapore willingly accept this and play the role? Looks like Vivian Balakrishnan has a job cut out for him to excel. And he would pass with flying colours with his team of super talents in the MFA.
When leaders received bad counsels and cannot tell the difference, the only way to go is down.
Chua Chin Leng aka Redbean
*The writer blogs at My Singapore News.