HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's customs chief on Wednesday denied suggestions that Beijing was involved in the investigation into nine armored personnel carriers belonging to Singapore that were seized in the Chinese-controlled territory.
Commissioner Roy Tang said his department was acting only under Hong Kong law when it impounded the nine SAF Terrex infantry carriers and other equipment.
He spoke a day after the Hong Kong government said the vehicles would be returned to Singapore following an investigation into a suspected violation of rules governing the shipment of "strategic commodities." The vehicles were being sent back home via Hong Kong after military training exercises in Taiwan when they were seized in November.
Experts say the dispute could indicate China's unhappiness with Singapore's longstanding practice of holding military training with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a part of China.
"Hong Kong customs is only authorized to enforce the Hong Kong law. We have no role to play in any enforcement or work other than laws applicable to Hong Kong, so there's no such implication," Tang said when asked whether Beijing had any role in the case. "We are a Hong Kong law enforcement agency," he added, making the points repeatedly during a news briefing.
Tang said authorities are weighing a criminal prosecution, but he ruled out targeting Singapore because they didn't find the Southeast Asian country's government to be involved in any breach of shipping rules.
"The Singaporean government, from the very beginning, has not been the subject of investigation," he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Hong Kong handled the case "in accordance with the law."
"The Chinese government has consistently opposed official exchanges in any forms, including military interactions and co-operations, between Taiwan and countries having relationships with China," she said, urging Singapore to abide by the "one China" policy.
Hong Kong is a specially administered Chinese region that has considerable autonomy and retains a separate legal system from the mainland under the "one country, two systems" principle.
AP researcher Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.