China’s foreign ministry has lodged a protest with Singapore after nine Singaporean military vehicles were seized by Hong Kong customs en route from Taiwan last week.
Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang revealed the news at a regular press briefing on Monday.
“We call on Singapore to act in accordance with the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in handling the matter,” Geng said. “We oppose any nations that have diplomatic ties with China to have contacts with Taiwan, including military relations,” he said, adding: “We call on Singapore to abide by the one China principle.”
Geng’s remarks came as the nationalist Global Times tabloid denounced Singapore’s “hypocrisy” over its military relationship with Taiwan, warning that it could harm ties.
The armoured troop carriers were being shipped back to Singapore by a cargo vessel which stopped at Kwai Chung container terminal in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
The incident has escalated into a diplomatic row between China and the city state, worsening ties already strained by Singapore’s position in the South China Sea disputes.
It has also put fresh scrutiny on four decades of military cooperation between Taiwan and Singapore – which Beijing has tolerated but with reluctance.
“It is no longer reasonable for Singapore to continue … any kind of military exchange with Taiwan,” said an opinion article in the Global Times on Monday. The incident with the armoured troop carriers “adds to the suspicion” Singapore was working against the “one-China” principle, the paper said.
It was written by a commentator identified only as Ai Jun, which is a homonym for “love the army”.
The article, which appeared only in the paper’s English-language edition, went on to list Singapore’s military relations with the United States and its stance on the South China Sea sovereignty disputes as further demonstrating the city state’s “hypocrisy”.
It said Singapore was aiding the United States in containing China by allowing US forces to be stationed at the Changi Naval Base.
“If public opinion about Singapore changes in China, it will turn into a huge blow for bilateral ties,” the paper said.
Additional reporting by Reuters