SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore's army is sending a team to Hong Kong to secure nine of its armored personnel carriers that were seized by customs authorities while in transit through the southern Chinese territory, the Defense Ministry said Friday.
The ministry said in a statement that the team was on its way to "address the security" of the eight-wheeled Singapore-made Terrex infantry carrier vehicles that were held by Hong Kong customs on Wednesday.
The statement did not say where the vehicles had been shipped from, but Singapore's Straits Times newspaper said they were being sent to Singapore from Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. The ministry said the vehicles were not carrying ammunition or sensitive equipment.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper cited unidentified sources as saying the vehicles were used in training in Taiwan and that in order to secure their release, Singaporean authorities would need to contact China's Foreign Ministry. The militaries of Taiwan and Singapore have long trained together, much to the irritation of Beijing, which regards self-governing Taiwan as a breakaway province.
The seizure also comes amid Chinese displeasure over Singapore's approach to South China Sea territorial disputes. Though not a claimant in those disputes, Singapore has irritated China by advocating that countries should abide by international rules. China claims virtually the entire strategic waterway as its own and says international law has no jurisdiction in the matter.
Some experts quoted in Hong Kong media reports speculated that China would use the seized military shipment to pressure Singapore to adopt a friendlier stance toward China on the dispute.
However, Chinese military analyst Yue Gang said that was unlikely given Beijing's reluctance to draw attention to the disputes following an international arbitration panel's ruling in July that invalidated most of its territorial claims in the area.
"It is not worth it for China to connect the seizure of the shipment to the issue of the South China Sea. It will only give Singapore an excuse to play up the case," said Yue, a retired colonel in the People's Liberation Army.
The seizure took place onths after China cut off communication and exchanges with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's independence-leaning administration and launched a creeping campaign to diplomatically isolate the island.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government was verifying details about the seizure of the vehicles. He reiterated China's opposition to Taiwan conducting military exchanges with any country Beijing has ties with.
"China has long been resolutely opposed to official exchanges, including military exchange and cooperation, between Taiwan and any countries that have diplomatic ties with China," Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing.