According to Chinese media reports, China is particularly offended at Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen’s statement made on Nov 29 referring Taiwan as a country:
“People know where we train openly … and any training matters between us and other countries are bilateral. We should not, until the facts come out, muddle the picture and impute various motives. SAF will continue to train overseas based on existing agreements between countries.”
It appears that this statement by the million dollar Singaporean Minister is deliberate in provoking China and making a point that Singapore does not respect the “One-China” policy at all. Minister Ng Eng Hen unwittingly added fuel to fire resulting in China not returning the nine SAF vehicles worth a total of S$119 million confiscated at Hong Kong port last month. China has cited infringements to local Hong Kong laws but the Singapore government refuse to accept their answer and instead demanded for a “legal” reason to which China did not bother to respond despite Singapore arranging 3 meetings with Hong Kong authorities.
Just a week ago, China also confiscated a US drone found in the South China Sea waters near Philippines but promptly returned it to US within 5 days after the Obama administration made diplomatic calls to Beijing. The difference however is that the drone was found in international waters and that China has no legal basis to detain the vessel.
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China and Singapore’s relationship took a turn for the worse when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong demanded the world’s second superpower to “obey the rule of law” by giving up their claims over the South China Sea in August 2016. China responded telling him to mind his own business since Singapore is not a claimant country in the disputed sea territories. In Nov, Lee Hsien Loong ran foul of his mouth again charging China to stop behaving like “the middle kingdom” and that there is no such thing as the “middle kingdom”.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is on a 10 day holiday and refraining from addressing China while hiding behind the Defence and Foreign ministries.