Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Return our Terrexes!

Seized Terrexes protected by international law: Ng Eng Hen
Singapore looks forward to return of infantry carriers from Hong Kong, minister tells Parliament
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2017

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday explained why the seizure of the nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex infantry carriers in Hong Kong does not comply with international or Hong Kong law.

He also told Parliament that Singapore looks forward to the carriers being returned.

The vehicles, Dr Ng said, are the property of the Singapore Government. "They are protected by sovereign immunity, even though they were being shipped by commercial carriers. This means that they are immune from any measures of constraint abroad.

"They cannot legally be detained or confiscated by other countries.

"This principle is well established under international law, and we are advised by lawyers that it is also the law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," Dr Ng said in his reply to MPs' questions.

"The Singapore Government has asserted our sovereign rights over the SAF's Terrexes," he added.

Singapore has informed Hong Kong several times in the past two months that the Terrex vehicles belong to the Singapore Government and are, therefore, immune from any measures of constraint, he said.

"Accordingly, we have requested the Hong Kong authorities to return our property immediately."

He added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying to reiterate the same message. Hong Kong has replied that investigations are ongoing and will take some time to be completed, and that the Hong Kong Government will handle the matter in accordance with their laws.

Singapore welcomes this response, Dr Ng said. "Adherence to the rule of law has been the fundamental basis for peace and stability for the last half century in Asia.

"It has enabled countries both large and small to build trust and confidence in one another, cooperate and prosper together," he said.

The nine vehicles were seized by Hong Kong Customs on Nov 23 while in transit on their way back from a military exercise in Taiwan.

Responding to MPs' questions, he reiterated that the Terrex vehicles were used for training and did not contain sensitive equipment. SAF has since done a comprehensive review of its shipping procedures to "reduce the risk of SAF equipment being taken hostage en route".

When Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) asked if the Ministry of Defence had anticipated that such "hostage situations" could happen, Dr Ng replied: " Hong Kong is an international port of repute and there is no reason to believe that our SAF assets will be seized."

The SAF is also considering other options, like housing the equipment at its overseas training sites to avoid shipping it back.

The current practice is not to ship all equipment directly as this will cost more and add several hundred million dollars to the annual defence budget. The navy does not have ships big enough to handle all of the SAF's shipping logistics, but will study if its Landing Ship Tanks should be replaced by larger ships.

Existing commercial shipping arrangements have allowed the SAF to ship equipment safely and economically without significant incidents in the past 30 years, he said.

There are rare exceptions, like the transport of advanced weapon and sensor systems, in which the SAF may charter a ship, mandate direct shipping or deploy protection forces. But the Terrex vehicles do not fall into this category, he said.

He added: "We look forward to the Hong Kong government returning our Terrexes in accordance with international law."

Sovereign immunity
The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2017

Professor Tan Cheng Han of the National University of Singapore's law faculty explains what this means.

Q What is sovereign immunity?

A The doctrine of sovereign immunity is a principle of international law that one state cannot be sued in the courts of another state without the consent of the first mentioned state, nor will the courts of a state seize or detain property that belongs to another state.

Q What does this mean for the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles?

A As the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles are clearly the property of the Singapore Government, if the doctrine of sovereign immunity is applied, the outcome in principle should be the release of the vehicles.

Q What is the process for invoking sovereign immunity?

A A claim of sovereign immunity can be invoked at any time over government property that has been seized or detained.

Q Is sovereign immunity recognised internationally? Does Hong Kong recognise sovereign immunity?

A The doctrine of sovereign immunity is recognised internationally. There are decisions of the Hong Kong courts that recognise this doctrine.

Q Are there precedent cases where sovereign immunity was applied successfully?

A One relatively recent case in Hong Kong was the 2011 decision of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal that recognised the Democratic Republic of the Congo was entitled to sovereign immunity.

Seizure of SAF vehicles shouldn't be politicised, says Vivian Balakrishnan
He says Singapore has been assured issue will be handled through proper legal process
Singapore abides by 'One China' policy
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2017

Singapore has been assured that the seizure of its military vehicles in Hong Kong will be handled through proper legal process, and the issue should not be politicised, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to MPs' questions about how the seizure of nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex infantry carriers has affected Singapore's relations with China.

Noting that both Hong Kong and China have stated that the matter would be handled in accordance with Hong Kong's laws, he said: "Let's avoid politicising this and let's avoid megaphone diplomacy. Let's give this incident every opportunity to resolve itself in, I hope, an appropriate and sensible way."

This was a point he repeated several times in the House, as he urged MPs to "have some patience and give this matter time to resolve".

The SAF vehicles were on their way back to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan when they were seized in Hong Kong in November, and have not been returned.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore's relationship with China is a longstanding, multifaceted and mutually beneficial one, and should not be seen as a "zero-sum game".

"We believe in interdependence characterised by open, inclusive regional architecture that promotes collaboration and win-win outcomes," he said.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) had questioned if China had respect for the law, saying if that were the case, the incident would not have happened. He also asked if China's economic progress has "made her arrogant and aggressive and become a big bully".

The minister said Singapore has long been a firm believer that a strong China that is "deeply engaged with the rest of the world and economically integrated" would bring enormous benefits. Citing China's achievements such as lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, he said these developments will bring opportunities but also "issues to resolve from time to time".

He said it was a reality of realpolitik that big countries would sometimes pressure other countries to "act entirely in line with their own national interests", adding that Singapore has encountered such expectations from time to time.

"However, it is important for us to conduct our foreign policy as a sovereign, independent nation, and not be seen as acting at the behest of any other country," he said.

This is essential to Singapore's international credibility, standing and relevance to its foreign partners and friends, he added.

Singapore has to maintain its emphasis on upholding international law, he said, as a rules-based international order is crucial for the survival and independence of small states.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked about the Chinese state-owned media's portrayal of the Terrex issue. The tabloid Global Times said in a November editorial that the vehicles should be confiscated and melted down.

Dr Balakrishnan said there was no need for "megaphone diplomacy", adding: "I don't believe in... conducting affairs in a way which generates more heat than light."

He stressed that Singapore's relations with China and interactions with Hong Kong and Taiwan are "based strictly on our 'one China' policy". "We have consistently abided by this policy and the understandings reached when we established diplomatic relations with China in 1990. And we will continue to do so."

He called on all MPs to stand with the Government on its foreign policy. "This is one of those occasions for us to learn the right lessons, to stand together, because, ultimately, foreign policy begins at home."

Hong Kong government to handle seized SAF vehicles under Hong Kong law
By Joyce Lim, Hong Kong Correspondent and Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2017

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Office has said that the government will handle the seizure of Singapore's military vehicles according to the city's laws.

A spokesman yesterday confirmed receipt of a letter from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, adding that the matter is being investigated by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.

PM Lee has written to the Hong Kong leader to ask for the return of nine Terrex infantry carriers that belong to the Singapore Government.

The armoured vehicles and other equipment, which were being transported by a commercial vessel operated by APL from Taiwan back to Singapore, were seized by Hong Kong Customs when the vessel was in transit in Hong Kong on Nov 23 last year.

The Terrex vehicles were used by the Singapore Armed Forces in routine overseas training in Taiwan.

It was not the first time that an APL vessel carrying Singapore- bound military equipment had transited in Hong Kong. The city's Customs authorities have yet to give an official reason for the seizure.

They did not answer questions from The Straits Times yesterday, but said that "the case is still under investigation".

In a response soon after the vehicles were impounded, a spokesman told The Straits Times that cargo in transit generally does not require an "import or export licence" as it will remain at all times on the ship. However, such a licence will be required for "certain types of strategic commodities".

APL declined to comment if it has the proper documentation required by the Hong Kong authorities.

However, a source with the Hong Kong Customs who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Straits Times yesterday that the Singapore-bound shipment was seized due to a lack of documentation.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament yesterday that as the vehicles are the property of the Singapore Government and protected by international law, they cannot be seized.

Singapore could take legal action in Hong Kong courts based on the principle of sovereign immunity of military assets, a Hong Kong-based senior lawyer specialising in marine claims was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Days after the seizure, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated that China "firmly opposes any of the countries that have diplomatic ties with them (China) to have any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, including defence exchanges and cooperation".

Yesterday, Beijing again urged Singapore to "abide by the 'one China' principle", and called on Singapore to be cautious in its remarks and actions in handling the matter.

"We hope the Singapore side can conscientiously abide by Hong Kong's laws," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

Terrex vehicles: Ball now in Hong Kong's court
The Terrex vehicles seized by Hong Kong Customs belong to Singapore and should be returned. Hong Kong's reputation as a port is at stake.
By Eugene K.B. Tan, Published The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2017

It has been over six weeks since the Hong Kong Customs authorities on Nov 23 detained nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs), which were shipped from Taiwan where they had been used for military training, en route to Singapore.

After maintaining a stoic stance, saying the issue over compliance with shipping documentation was one between the commercial shipping company, APL, and the Hong Kong Customs authorities, the Singapore Government elaborated in Parliament yesterday its position with regard to the ICVs' detention.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen asserted Singapore's sovereign immunity in the case, saying that under international law, property belonging to a sovereign state should not be subject to constraints by another state.

While investigations may be ongoing into APL, Dr Ng said the vehicles belonged to Singapore and must be returned. In asserting sovereign immunity, the Singapore Government and the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) are adopting a sensible policy and legally sound approach in seeking the expeditious release of the nine Terrex vehicles.

As is the usual practice, the SAF had shipped the ICVs from Taiwan back to Singapore using a commercial shipping line. As training platforms, the nine ICVs have no ammunition or sensitive equipment on board.

The Hong Kong authorities have not publicly released the reasons for the ICVs' detention. According to Mindef, the ICVs were impounded amid queries over whether there were necessary permits required for their Hong Kong transit.

In actively yet quietly setting in motion the effort to recover the ICVs, SAF had advised APL to extend its full cooperation to Hong Kong, while letting investigations take their course.

At the same time, as Dr Ng suggested in Parliament, Singapore had also scrupulously asserted its full sovereign rights over the ICVs on the basis of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The ICVs are unequivocally emblems of Singapore's sovereignty.


Put simply, as a rule of customary international law, the doctrine of sovereign or state immunity states that a sovereign state is exempt from the jurisdiction of foreign national courts (or immunity from jurisdiction) at the very least in respect of its sovereign activities. In other words, a sovereign state cannot be sued before the courts of another sovereign state without its consent.

As Singapore's Court of Appeal had put it in a 2008 judgment, "the doctrine of state immunity is founded on the concept of the equality, independence and dignity of states, and the principle that an equal has no authority over another equal".

State immunity is a "privilege of exemption" extended by one sovereign state to another, and with the expectation of reciprocal treatment by the latter. Countries adopt one of two competing conceptions of state immunity: absolute or restrictive.

In essence, the distinction between the two lies in whether a state's activity and assets, when they are of a commercial nature, are granted immunity from the jurisdiction of a foreign court.

Under restrictive state immunity, a government's activity and assets that are of a commercial nature are denied immunity. In contrast, they are protected under absolute state immunity. The practice of states indicates that the trend is towards restrictive state immunity.

For instance, the 1972 European Convention on State Immunity, the laws of the United Kingdom, United States and Singapore provide for restrictive state immunity. The 2004 UN Convention on the Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property, which is not in force yet, is structured similarly.

It may well be that the APL did not comply with Hong Kong's laws in transporting the ICVs into the territory. If so, the matter of any alleged breach of Hong Kong's import and export laws is clearly a matter between Hong Kong and APL. However, as owners of the ICVs, Singapore and the SAF are caught in the legal tussle.

Let's assume that APL did not fully comply with Hong Kong's laws in shipping the ICVs through the territory. In cases where state immunity did not apply, the cargo could be seized and forfeited under Hong Kong's Import and Export Ordinance. This formal enforcement action for violation of laws is to ensure that they are followed.

However, like diplomatic assets, military equipment like the ICVs and other SAF assets detained are immune from seizure and execution (immunity from enforcement) in Hong Kong under the doctrine of state immunity, whether absolute or restrictive.


This is buttressed by a 2011 majority decision where Hong Kong's apex court, the Court of Final Appeal (CFA), ruled that foreign states enjoy absolute state immunity from jurisdiction in Hong Kong, including a foreign government's activity and assets of a commercial nature. This fundamentally reversed Hong Kong's longstanding position of restrictive state immunity during British rule.

The basis for the CFA's landmark decision in Democratic Republic of the Congo v FG Hemisphere was that China applied absolute state immunity, and "HKSAR cannot, as a matter of legal and constitutional principle, adhere to a doctrine of state immunity which differs from that adopted by the PRC. The doctrine of state immunity practised in the HKSAR, as in the rest of China, is accordingly a doctrine of absolute immunity".

As a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, Hong Kong's adoption of "a divergent state immunity policy (from China) would embarrass and prejudice the State in its conduct of foreign affairs".

Under Hong Kong's Basic Law (its de facto constitutional document), the territory does not exercise sovereign powers. China is responsible for Hong Kong's foreign affairs, and Hong Kong courts have no jurisdiction over acts of state such as defence and foreign affairs.

Subsequently, upon judicial reference made to it in accordance with the Basic Law, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee confirmed the CFA's ruling. China has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property it had signed in 2006.

China's continued adherence to absolute state immunity after signing the convention, including always asserting absolute immunity for itself before foreign domestic courts, confirms that it has not abandoned the practice of absolute state immunity.

The Congo case unifies Hong Kong's law and policy of state immunity with that of China. Following China's consistent position, the case emphasises that Hong Kong recognises and applies absolute state immunity. This means that a state and its property enjoy absolute immunity from jurisdiction and enforcement in Hong Kong in respect of both sovereign activities and private commercial activities.

In the present case, the ICVs were shipped through Hong Kong neither as commercial assets nor as part of a commercial activity, but as Singapore Government military property. They are clearly entitled to state immunity from the jurisdiction of and enforcement actions in Hong Kong.

SAF did not attempt to conceal the ICVs. APL would have known the nature of Mindef's shipment. As published photos of the detained ICVs show, they were not stored in containers during shipment but were covered with tarpaulin.

The ICVs' detention has fuelled speculation that Sino-Singapore ties are at a new low. Such speculation plays to the idea that bilateral ties are weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bilateral ties are strong, deep and multifaceted. Singapore has also consistently, and recently, reaffirmed its commitment to the "One China" principle.

Other political dynamics may well be at play, not least cross-strait relations involving China and Taiwan (and the United States). But that is neither determinative nor relevant to the Customs regulatory issue the ICVs are embroiled in. It also takes us into the realm of realpolitik.

Legal issues are best dealt with through legal means. Letting the investigative process take its course gives effect to the rule of law in both domestic governance and international relations.

Given Hong Kong's adherence to absolute state immunity, it would be very surprising if the ICVs were not duly returned to Singapore. Should the ICVs be detained longer than is necessary, or seized and forfeited, that would constitute a serious and flagrant infringement of Singapore's national sovereignty and interests.

Furthermore, Hong Kong's reputation and standing as a key trans-shipment port and its commitment to the rule of law would be adversely affected should it not provide Singapore with the full measure of state immunity. A prompt resolution, in accordance with Hong Kong's law and international law, would enhance the rule of law and augur well for the comity and strong ties that exist between Singapore and Hong Kong (and China).

The writer is associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University and a former Nominated MP.

Holding on to Singapore armoured vehicles hurts China's interests
By Martin Oei, Published The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2017

On Monday, Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen rose in Parliament to respond to queries by MPs on the seizure of Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) armoured vehicles in Hong Kong. He said the vehicles and other equipment are the property of the Singapore Government and protected by sovereign immunity under international law. He asked Hong Kong to return them immediately.

The principle of sovereign immunity is founded on equality between countries. When the actions of one sovereign country are brought to the courts in another, generally the relevant jurisdiction of the latter is not exercised. And such a concept exists in China, Britain, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Before Sept 8, 2011, when the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal ruled on a court case involving the Democratic Republic of Congo and FG Hemisphere Associates, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region had been applying relevant concepts of sovereign immunity from the British State Immunity Act 1978. That meant the commercial activities of a sovereign country could not invoke sovereign immunity and be exempt from prosecution. In Hong Kong, sovereign states also had to appear in court for legal action arising from commercial disputes or activities.

However, in the 2011 lawsuit involving a debt dispute between DR Congo and FG Hemisphere, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal requested that China's National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) give its interpretation of the relevant articles of the Basic Law, on the basis that the case concerned foreign relations. In its interpretation, the NPCSC pointed out that the British State Immunity Act 1978 no longer applied to Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong should adopt the same approach as China in exercising absolute immunity.

This means that any action by sovereign states in Hong Kong is not liable for prosecution. Following the ruling of the Court of Final Appeal on Sept 8, 2011, there are no longer exceptions on Hong Kong's position on sovereign immunity.

Since the NPCSC has established that the State Immunity Act no longer applies to Hong Kong when explaining the Basic Law, and that China's effecting of absolute sovereign immunity applies, Hong Kong has no legal basis to hold the SAF's armoured vehicles.

Hong Kong Customs should take reference from the DR Congo and FG Hemisphere case and immediately return the armoured vehicles to the Singapore Government, and not continue to hold them on the pretext of an investigation.

Hong Kong's Department of Justice (DOJ), as legal counsel to the Hong Kong government, wrote the grounds of judgment on the DR Congo and FG Hemisphere case. Veteran lawyer and Hong Kong's Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen should know that the seizure of Singapore's armoured vehicles cannot stand before the law.

The DOJ is duty-bound to give Hong Kong Customs its legal opinion and point out that under Hong Kong's current laws, there is no basis to hold the armoured vehicles, which were being commercially transported without any explosives on them. While these armoured vehicles are strategic assets legally, it is also clear that sovereign immunity comes above all else.

If China does not want the incident to hurt its relationship with Singapore, all it needs to do is to get the Hong Kong government to release the armoured vehicles based on NPCSC's interpretation of the Basic Law in 2011. Doing so can also be seen as China exercising its sovereignty over Hong Kong, which in fact is also face-saving for China without hurting Singapore-China relations and Hong Kong's status as a free port.

However, if China continues to get Hong Kong to hold these armoured vehicles, not only will it hurt Hong Kong's status as a free port and in turn China's economic interests, but the NPCSC's effectiveness in interpreting the Basic Law will also be called into question.

Since the NPCSC has stated in its interpretation that Hong Kong should exercise absolute sovereign immunity, how effective and logical is NPCSC's interpretation of the Basic Law if China insists on detaining the armoured vehicles?

While the legal interpretation of the DR Congo and FG Hemisphere case has come under criticism by many in the legal and business sectors in Hong Kong, at the very least, it was carried out according to the specific proceedings of the Basic Law, and indeed the NPCSC has the authority to interpret the Basic Law.

But if the same interpretation is not applied to the seizure of Singapore's armoured vehicles, the authority of the NPCSC in interpreting the Basic Law for Hong Kong will become more questionable, to the detriment of not just Singapore-China ties.

It remains to be seen if Beijing will resolve the seizure of the armoured vehicles with wisdom and in keeping with Hong Kong law. A swift return of the vehicles to the Singapore Government will minimise the negative impact of the issue and bring about a win-win outcome for Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

The writer is a British current affairs commentator based in Hong Kong. This article was first published in Chinese in Lianhe Zaobao.

Terrex detention issue a matter of law
Editorial, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2017

The parliamentary discussion this week of the Terrex detention issue clarified a major point, that this is an issue of law. As Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen explained, the seizure of the nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex infantry carriers in Hong Kong does not comply with international or Hong Kong law. The fact is that the vehicles are the property of the Singapore Government, and hence protected by sovereign immunity, meaning that they cannot legally be detained or confiscated by other countries. This principle, being well established under international law, is also the law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Hence, it is only natural that Singapore looks forward to the carriers being returned.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying underlines the need for the return. The Hong Kong authorities' assurance, that the SAR government would handle the matter according to its laws, is a welcome response which would make Singaporeans hope that the return of the Terrex carriers is a matter of administrative time only. Clearly, whether the shipping company carrying the Terrex vehicles complied with the rules of Hong Kong port is a matter between the company and the Hong Kong authorities, which should follow the due process of Hong Kong law. That issue does not affect the legal reality that the Terrexes are the property of the Singapore Government.

In spite of the legal clarity of the issue, the detention of the Terrex vehicles has raised questions in the public mind about whether the move is an act of Chinese retribution for Singapore's perceived defiance of their interests. These could do with China's relations with Taiwan, where the Terrex carriers participated in a military exercise before their journey to Singapore was interrupted in Hong Kong; or Singapore's stance on the South China Sea dispute. The truth is that neither Singapore's long-established military exercises in Taiwan, nor its principled position on a peaceful resolution of the maritime dispute consonant with international law, subverts a fundamental and abiding commitment to its "one China" policy.

After all, the military exercises have co-existed with Singapore's growing economic and political relations with China since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1990. As for the South China Sea, Singapore cannot be faulted for having adopted a consistent and clear line on the dispute despite not being a claimant state. Instead, it is international law that Singapore turns to, issue after international issue, because it is that law which enables small states like itself to exist in the interstices of international relations. Nations such as the United States and a resurgent China no doubt play a leading role in the evolution of international power politics, but Singapore must believe in the power of law over the law of power.

No reason for Singapore to stop military training in Taiwan

By Chen Wen Ping, Published The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2017

A letter bearing the headline "Exercise Starlight should be terminated" and published in Malaysian Chinese-language daily Nanyang Siang Pau on Jan 7 made some points related to Singapore's military training in Taiwan.

The first point was that with the issue of the seizure of Singapore's nine armoured vehicles in Hong Kong still hanging in the balance, there has again been noise over Starlight troops' use of training grounds in Taiwan.

The second point was a criticism of the Singapore Government's handling of the armoured vehicles issue as being grounded in "groupthink".

According to the forum letter writer, since Australia is providing more land for Singapore troops to train on, it is time to terminate Exercise Starlight as a good way to thaw chilly relations with China.

On the surface, this analysis may seem sound, but in fact, it is subjective thinking and reflects a unilateral understanding of the situation. The training by Singapore troops in Taiwan, dubbed Exercise Starlight, began in 1967 after Singapore's independence and has carried on for almost 50 years. This is no secret but a choice made by Singapore to seek foreign third-party assistance because of land constraints at home.


Singapore has always been very clear about its position on "one China". It is a known fact that Singapore recognises only the People's Republic of China, evident from the stand taken by the Government, and there is no grey area.

Singapore's overseas training grounds also include the United States and Australia. Government ministers, even the President, make frequent visits to inspect its soldiers at these training bases. There is also no shortage of media coverage of these visits.

But did the forum letter writer notice any reports about Exercise Starlight in the media? Obviously not, because Exercise Starlight is extremely low-key in order to avoid any misunderstandings.

The seizure of Singapore's armoured vehicles at Hong Kong Customs has yet to be resolved.

As this is a commercial shipping issue, clarification should be made by the Hong Kong authorities.

But two months have passed and they have yet to come up with an explanation for the seizure. Is the Hong Kong government inefficient? Or is the delay involuntary on its part? We have no way of knowing.

If China is unhappy with Singapore and used Hong Kong to exercise detention rights, then China is being unreasonable for escalating a commercial issue into a political one. Since Hong Kong has remained silent, is the ball now in China's court?


The Singapore Government has been straightforward in attempts to resolve the Terrex incident, unlike the "groupthink" the letter writer described in his letter.

Be it in terms of international or maritime shipping law, the arguments are tenable.

Singapore's handling of this affair has been considerate of both Hong Kong and China. Not once has Singapore criticised them, hoping to de-escalate and resolve the issue in an appropriate manner. Before establishing diplomatic ties with mainland China, Singapore was already good friends with Taiwan.

In comparison with China, Singapore enjoyed better and stronger relations with Taiwan after independence in 1965.

In the early days of independence, not a single country in the world was willing to help Singapore train its armed forces.

Israel and Taiwan were the only places which offered help.

Exercise Starlight was clearly communicated between Singapore and China before bilateral ties were established on Oct 3, 1990.

Moreover, Singapore had nothing to hide from the Chinese government and its people. Singapore is a sovereign nation and should not bend to the will of others.

If China is using the Terrex incident to pressure Singapore into scrapping Exercise Starlight, that would be considered bullying and disregarding the existing realities that Singapore faces.


The prosperity of the Chinese people must be built on foundations of respect, inclusiveness, friendly cooperation as well as mutual benefit and trust.

Singapore will be able to stand firm regardless of China exerting pressure using the Terrex incident.

This will ensure small countries like Singapore can command respect in matters of international diplomacy. The international community is watching Hong Kong's next move: Will it follow the law or allow a weakening of the regulatory system?

All eyes are also on China: It will be a test of its promise to adhere to a "one country, two systems" principle.

In conclusion, Exercise Starlight will continue and will not be terminated just like that - unless Taiwan is reluctant to extend the agreement but that will be another matter for another day.

This commentary was first published in the opinion section of Malaysian Chinese daily Nanyang Siang Pau yesterday. The writer is a current affairs commentator for the paper.

Translated by Kua Yu-Lin

China-Singapore Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation slated for February
Highest-level bilateral forum held yearly to deepen political ties, economic cooperation
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2017

The Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) - the highest- level forum between China and Singapore - will be held next month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

The JCBC is the top bilateral body that meets yearly to deepen political ties and economic cooperation between both countries. It is co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.

MFA said on its website that Permanent Secretary Chee Wee Kiong and China's Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin yesterday discussed upcoming bilateral exchanges, including the JCBC and the China-Singapore Forum on Leadership.

Mr Liu was here for the 10th Bilateral Consultations between the foreign ministries of both countries, which he co-chaired with Mr Chee.

The consultations, started in 1996, are a platform for both foreign ministries to discuss bilateral cooperation, Asean-China cooperation, and to exchange views on key regional and global developments.

Mr Chee and Mr Liu also reviewed the "longstanding and multi-faceted cooperation" between Singapore and China, MFA said.

They noted that both sides maintained high-level exchanges last year, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's meetings with President Xi Jinping at the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, and with Premier Li Keqiang at the Asean Summit in Vientiane.

Mr Chee and Mr Liu also reviewed the good progress of the three government-to-government projects, including the latest Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, which aims to turn the Chinese city into a logistics and services hub.

Mr Chee expressed Singapore's support for China's "Belt and Road" initiative, a new area of collaboration which MFA said would build upon the countries' substantive bilateral ties.

The senior diplomats also discussed how to strengthen Asean- China relations and connectivity, as well as how the tourism authorities from both sides can promote tourism between Asean and China.

In recent times, Singapore's bilateral ties with China have come under the spotlight after Hong Kong Customs seized nine of the Singapore Armed Forces' Terrex armoured vehicles on Nov 23. Hong Kong has said it would handle the matter according to its laws.

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