Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan has stressed that Singapore will not allow any single issue to hijack its longstanding, wide-ranging relationship with China.
Dr Balakrishnan, who was the keynote speaker at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum which took place at Ritz-Carlton Hotel, was responding to questions of last week’s seizure of nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles by the Customs authorities in Hong Kong and about recent frictions in Singapore-China ties in global affairs.
He stated that senior officials of both sides understand that the relationship is “longstanding, multi-faceted, mutually beneficial” and said that the Government will not allow any single issue to hijack it.
Dr Balakrishnan said that he would not overreact to the issue, saying that the Government expects commercial providers of services to strictly comply with the law.
“It will be a footnote on how to do things strictly, carefully and by the law. It’s not a strategic incident,” he added.
Nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs) and associated equipment of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), used for its overseas training in Taiwan, were seized by the Hong Kong customs last Wednesday (23 November).
Just yesterday, China announced that it has lodged a protest with Singapore after nine armoured infantry carrier vehicles (IFVs) from Singapore along with other equipment were seized by Hong Kong customs.
“China has already made representations over this to the Singapore side,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing on Monday.
Earlier on 25 November, when asked about the seized cargo, the China spokesman had reiterated that the Chinese government is firmly opposed to any forms of official interaction between Taiwan and countries that have diplomatic relations with China, military exchanges and cooperation included.
The China spokesman said, “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,” and added, “We call on Singapore to abide by the one China principle.”
Dr Balakrishnan stated during the forum that Singapore has believed in the One-China policy since it established diplomatic relations with China 25 years ago. Despite the current incident, this belief has not changed.
“If you are truly close, there will be things you disagree about from time to time. Fortunately or unfortunately for Singapore, we are very transparent, we call a spade a spade. It doesn’t mean we are shifting our position or deliberately trying to poke people in the eye,” he said.
An audience asked the Minister about how Singapore will respond to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s remarks that the Republic should adhere strictly to the One-China policy. Dr Balakrishnan responded by saying that Singapore does not conduct foreign policy by reflex.
The Minister stated that Singapore’s training arrangement with Taiwan have been long-running and is not a secret. He also pointed to the large number of Singaporean men who have trained there since 1975.
He said, “We all know, and China knows, that we’ve had special arrangements with Taiwan for a long time, and what we are doing there is no longer a secret.”
Dr Balakrishnan also added that it would be a “surprise” for China to kept silent about this arrangement. However, he also noted that he has told his Chinese counterpart that Singapore values its longstanding relationships.
He stated, “One thing in Chinese culture is you never forget your old friends, people who were there with you in the beginning, people who were there with you through thick and thin, and surely in Chinese culture you appreciate this concept of loyalty to old friends.”
“And at the same time, you know full well where I stand, that I believe in One China and we will not deviate from that,” he added.
The Minister also said that Singapore’s own circumstances and history inform its position on the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight and of international mechanisms to resolve disputes on an issue like the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.