China paper says Singapore troop carriers should be "melted down"

BEIJING (Reuters) - Armoured troop carriers belonging to Singapore and currently impounded in Hong Kong should be "melted down", China's influential state-run tabloid the Global Times said on Tuesday, in its second swipe at the island nation in two days. The nine troop carriers were impounded in Hong Kong last week en route back from Taiwan, sparking a rebuke to Singapore from China about maintaining military ties with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province. Ties between China and Singapore have been strained in recent months, particularly over the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing, which claims most of the waters, suspects Singapore of siding with the United States. Beijing has accused Washington of deliberately creating tension by sailing its ships close to China's islands. The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, blasted Singapore's "carelessness" with the armoured vehicles, which it said reflected a failure to take seriously China's displeasure over its military relationship with Taiwan. "Singapore's image in China is now so rotten that ordinary Chinese people think the best thing to do with the 'confiscated' armoured vehicles that 'walked right into our trap' is to send them to the steel mills to be melted down," it said. The editorial, published in the paper's Chinese language edition, whose website attracts millions of visitors every day, adopts a similarly strident tone to a Monday commentary in its much less read English edition, accusing Singapore of "hypocrisy". Singapore should use this "interlude" in its relations with China to find "enlightenment" rather than to provoke more resentment, it added. "All incidents have causes - to grasp and understand them is always wise," the editorial said. Singapore and Taiwan have a longstanding military relationship that began in the 1970s and involves Taiwan being used as grounds for Singaporean infantry training. Beijing has grudgingly tolerated this agreement since the China and Singapore re-established diplomatic relations in the 1990s. The Global Times has a history of writing hyperbolic editorials and is usually significantly more hawkish than the government's official line. In September, the paper embarked on a war of words with Singapore's ambassador to China, Stanley Loh, over a report that said Singapore had raised the South China Sea at summit in Venezuela, which the ambassador denied. China has repeatedly warned Singapore against getting involved in the territorial dispute in which China asserts sovereignty over waters and islands claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Singapore has no claims, but as the biggest port in Southeast Asia, the city-state's open economy depends on continued free navigation in the area. (Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Ben Blanchard)