SAF to recover its vehicles after establishing reasons for seizure: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. Yahoo Singapore file photo.

Recovery of the nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles seized in Hong Kong will begin after the reasons for the detainment are made clear, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Hong Kong customs officials and staff from shipping firm APL, which was contracted by the SAF to transport the vehicles from Taiwan to Singapore, are meeting later on Tuesday (29 November), said the minister.

Ng said at a media briefing at Choa Chu Kang camp, “After the reasons and legal basis are made clear for the detention of SAF Terrexes by the Hong Kong authorities, Mindef and the Singapore government will commence proceedings to recover our assets.

“Mindef aims to comply with all regulations and laws as well as exercise our full rights of recovery available to us.”

Last Wednesday, the nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles were confiscated by Hong Kong customs officials during an apparent “routine inspection”.

But media reports speculated that the seizure followed a tip off from mainland security agents in Xiamen, where the shipment by APL had made a stop prior to Hong Kong.

On Monday, Beijing lodged an official diplomatic complaint with Singapore over its long-standing military ties with Taiwan. The Republic has sent its troops to Taiwan for training since the 1970s.

Ng said during the media briefing that the diplomatic aspects will be dealt with by the two countries’ foreign ministries while Mindef will confine itself to the issue of the detained vehicles.

“I think speculations are on why they were, until the facts are established, and we should all wait for the facts. Until that is established, it is speculation unwarranted and unfair on all parties involved,” Ng added.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stressed that Singapore will not allow its deep ties with China to be hijacked by a single issue.

Speaking at a forum organised by The Straits Times on Tuesday morning, Balakrishnan was responding to a question about the impact of the confiscated vehicles on bilateral ties with Beijing.

“I wouldn’t overreact to that. All I would say is we expect commercial providers to strictly comply with the law. We expect the law to take its course,” according to a separate report by Today.

Calling China a “close and long term friend”, the minister said that there would be differences in view every now and then.

He added, “We are very consistent, we are very transparent, and we call a spade a spade. From time to time, a different perspective will emerge over specific issues. When that happens, our belief is that it’s better to be upfront, and be honest about it and do it in a non-provocative way.

“And honestly, at the most senior levels and at the leadership levels, there’s a deep appreciation that this is a long and wide ranging relationship, and we will not allow any single issue to hijack it.”