Fri. May 31st, 2024
Six of the nine armoured troop carriers belonging to Singapore, from a shipment detained at a container terminal, are seen in Hong Kong, China November 24, 2016. Picture taken through a glass window. (Image via REUTERS/Bobby Yip)

This post is part of the series SAF Vehicle Seize

Other posts in this series:

  1. What’s the deal with China holding our military vehicles? Bilahari Kausikan explains
  2. How should we react to China holding our armoured vehicles? (Current)
  3. Netizens: China’s a big but petty nation with double standards

TL;DR – Keep calm and carry on

Six of the nine armoured troop carriers belonging to Singapore, from a shipment detained at a container terminal, are seen in Hong Kong, China November 24, 2016. Picture taken through a glass window. (Image via REUTERS/Bobby Yip)
Six of the nine armoured troop carriers belonging to Singapore, from a shipment detained at a container terminal, are seen in Hong Kong, China November 24, 2016. Picture taken through a glass window. (via REUTERS/Bobby Yip)

Our nine amoured personnel carriers (APCs) were impounded by Hong Kong. Was it some administrative screw-up? Or was it because China is trying to send some sort of signals to Singapore? Perhaps to show some displeasure because we did something to upset them? No one quite knows. There has been no useful formal explanation from
China about this incident, although there was some reports about a tip off. Over at Singapore’s side, this statement was released by Mindef.

There have been various comments analysing this incident, including Mr Bilahari, one of Singapore’s ambassadors at large. It does seem that Singaporeans are quite concerned about this incident. And rightfully so. China is a rising world superpower. With Trump being elected as President, it is likely that China’s influence, especially in this region, will grow.

So how should we react to China impounding our APCs? We think there are three possible ways.

1. Roll over and do anything and everything China wants us to do

One theory about why China impounded our APCs is that China is unhappy that Singapore isn’t supporting them more in the international stage. China has long called Singapore a “Chinese nation”, even though we have repeatedly said otherwise. That’s why, even though they don’t say it out loud, there is a sense that China expects Singapore to be China’s mouthpiece on the international stage. And as any good mouthpiece, Singapore is expected to support China in all international matters.

But we don’t. Instead, we take a principled position, and Singapore supports the rule of law in the world. For example, on the South China Sea issues, we have urged all claimant states to abide by international law, much to China’s chagrin. So that could be a reason why China seems to be taking any opportunity whatsoever to try to put Singapore in our place.

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via Centre for Security Policy
via Centre for Security Policy

To resolve this, Singapore can simply listen to China. Be their good little lapdog. Roll over and do their bidding. Support them in all their claims on the international stage. For a start, we can try to convince all the other southeast Asian states that have claims on the South China Sea islands to give up their claims. Then we can pull our troops out of Taiwan. Stop conducting military trainings there. Surely that would appease China, right?

Perhaps. But if we were to do that, then we might as well call ourselves the Nanyang Special Administrative Region of China.

2. Be angry, try to hit back

It might surprise some people. But Singapore, small as we are, is China’s largest foreign investor in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, we have invested US$5.8 billion in 700 projects. Not only that. Remember that there are many China nationals working in Singapore. Put all these together, China’s economy definitely benefits greatly from its relationship with Singapore.


And that’s just the economy. China regularly sends its officials to Singapore to learn about social and political governance. Did you know that over 55,000 Chinese cadres and officials have attended various programmes in or made study visits to Singapore since 1992? So it’s not as if Singapore doesn’t help China at all.

But if China wants to treat us in this way, why should we continue to benefit China? Let’s just send all the China nationals back to China. Let’s stop investing in China. Don’t let Chinese officials come to learn about social and political governance.

It would be disastrous for us if we did that. As much as China benefits from its relationship with Singapore, we also benefit from having friendly relationship with China.

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3. Keep calm and carry on

If giving in and hitting back are both terrible options, then what can we do?

Well, we can keep calm and carry on.

Yes, China has impounded nine of our APCs. But there aren’t any sensitive military secrets or technologies on those nine APCs. It’s not that big a deal.

And Mindef officers have already arrived in Hong Kong to sort this out. So it’s likely that those nine APCs will soon be on their way back to Singapore.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a small, (eventually will be) insignificant incident. We should not let it affect the relationship between China and Singapore. In fact, the last thing we should do is to play alarmist by reading too much into things and worse, reacting in a manner that is out of proportion.

If China is really that upset with Singapore, it would have gone further and cancelled all major meetings and exchanges. But it hasn’t. The Joint Council Bilateral Cooperation meeting (JCBC) that is scheduled for early next month is still set to happen.

On other levels, China and Singapore are still holding ongoing exchanges. Minister Chan Chun Sing and some Young PAP members just hosted a delegation from the All-China Youth Federation led by its President Mr He Junke.

Earlier this morning, he also spent with with China’s Vice Minister of Commerce Gao Yan.


Minister Ng Eng Hen just teamed up with Chinese Ambassador Chen Xiaodong in a friendly game of golf against food tycoon Sam Goi and MP Chong Kee Hiong.


So it seems that China isn’t really that upset with Singapore. For all we know, this move could have nothing to do with how China really feels about Singapore. China could be sending a signal to Taiwan, or to other Southeast Asian nations. Exactly what message China wants to send, we don’t know. But we could well just be collateral damage in a bigger international political game that China is playing.

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Or it could also be that this is China’s attempt to distract its citizens from their own internal concerns. China’s economic growth has slowed dramatically.

China's GDP annual growth rate. From
China’s GDP annual growth rate. From

The slowdown in economy is leading to a whole host of other issues in China. Solving these issues are difficult and takes time. It’s easier and faster to distract the people.

Whatever the case may be, Singapore should not change the way we relate to other nations. We should remain principled as we pursue and advance our own interests internationally. And, as Singaporeans, we should be proud that even though we are small, we cannot be cowed nor bullied by a bigger power.


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What is the Joint Council Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC)?

The Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) is an annual high-level bilateral platform to discuss ways to deepen and broaden Singapore-China cooperation. Initiated by the Chinese, the first JCBC meeting took place in May 2004, and it was co-chaired by then DPM Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi.

The 12th JCBC meeting took place in October 2015 which saw Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli visiting Singapore at the invitation of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

The JCBC is the highest-level mechanism for bilateral cooperation between Singapore and China. We can expect the top leaders of both countries to discuss existing and new areas of bilateral cooperation during the meeting. The next JCBC is expected to happen in China early next month (Dec).

Continue reading this series:

By Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

One thought on “How should we react to China holding our armoured vehicles?”
  1. Now that we are certain the JCBC would not happen, it tells us a stronger message that China is really upset. But nonetheless, the principled approach is likely still the best option to adopt. Keep calm and carry on. Diplomatically discuss with HK/China about the APCs issue. Continue to engage both sides officials in training, support. And business wise, hopefully on the ground, when Singapore businesses are in China, there is no hostile treatments. But if there really are such treatments, there are probably no quick answers. Singapore businesses just have to try their best to protect themselves, find peaceful ways to work things out.

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