A Singapore-bound cargo ship from Taiwan with armored military vehicles on board was inspected and detained by Hong Kong customs on Thursday last week. The Chinese foreign ministry responded Friday that the "Chinese government is firmly opposed to any forms of official interaction between Taiwan and countries that have diplomatic relations with us, military exchanges and cooperation included." The case is still being verified, but those military vehicles have raised new questions over Singapore's policy toward China.
Given that Singapore is a small country with limited space for military exercises, the nation has to train its troops overseas to maintain a strong defense force. According to the Taipei Times, former Taiwan leader Chiang Kai-shek and then-Singaporean prime minister Lee Kwan Yew ratified a secret agreement called Project Starlight in 1975, under which Singapore can send troops to Taiwan annually for training.
It is to some extent understandable that Singapore did this before it established diplomatic relations with China. But after 1990, the year that formal diplomatic ties were established, it is no longer reasonable for Singapore to continue Project Starlight or any kind of military exchanges with Taiwan.
In 2012, Singapore claimed it would suspend bilateral military cooperation with the island. However the recently detained vessel with its cargo of armored vehicles reveals Singapore's hypocrisy.
For quite some time, Singapore has been pretending to seek a balance between China and the US, yet has been taking Washington's side in reality. Singapore was never a military ally of the US, but has given the green light to US military forces' long-term presence at its Changi Naval Base as well as allowing US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft to operate out of its airbases. This has turned Singapore into a platform for Washington to contain and deter Beijing. Singapore claimed it was not picking sides in the South China Sea disputes, but its remarks about the issue are far from neutral; instead, it has actually complicated and expanded the scale of the case.
It should be expected that a small country like Singapore has its own tactics of survival in games of major powers. The country, which used to know its boundaries, is losing its balance now. Its measures to contain China are becoming obvious. The military equipment seized by Hong Kong authorities this time further adds to the suspicion that Singapore might be working against the "one China" principle.
It should be understood that if public opinion about Singapore changes in China, it will turn into a huge blow to bilateral ties, result in a possible adjustment to Beijing's foreign policies and profoundly impact Singapore's economy.