China-Singapore talks are a go despite spat over seized military vehicles
Yearly high-level meeting will proceed, but not expected to cover carriers held in Hong Kong
Ministers from China and Singapore have agreed to go ahead with annual high-level talks next month, but Beijing said the dialogue would not cover the impounding of the city state’s military vehicles in Hong Kong.
Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin met Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chee Wee Kiong, in Singapore on Tuesday, the first meeting between senior officials of the two nations since the seizure of the nine troop carriers in November, Xinhua reported.
The officials agreed that the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest-level dialogue between China and Singapore, would be held next month.
Relations between the two countries have been strained over Singapore’s support for an international tribunal ruling that discounted China’s claims to much of the South China Sea, and the seizure of the city state’s vehicles, which remain impounded in Hong Kong.
The nine armoured vehicles were uncovered by Hong Kong customs in containers without the required permits. They had been used in an exercise in Taiwan.
Yesterday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China and Singapore had kept in regular contact over the right time to hold such talks.
“But I think the meeting [next month] has nothing to do with the army vehicles,” said Hua, adding that Hong Kong was handling the matter according to its laws.
As a sign of the deteriorating relationship between China and Singapore, the joint council did not meet last year for the first time since 2004.
The council is an annual event and is to be hosted by Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli and Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean.
On Tuesday, Chee and Liu “reviewed the longstanding and multifaceted cooperation between the two countries”, Hua said. The two also discussed strengthening relations as Chee expressed support for Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative for the region.
However, observers were cautious about how much Sino-Singaporean relations could improve in the short term.
“Relations between China and Singapore have dropped to the lowest point in history … Even if [issues of the seizure of army vehicles and the South China Sea] are raised during the joint council meeting, it’s impossible that they can be solved,” said Zhang Mingliang, a Southeast Asia analyst at Jinan University in Guangzhou.
Du Jifeng at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said Beijing might expect Singapore to make compromises before it returned the army vehicles.