(Fixes typo in paragraph 6)
SINGAPORE Jan 9 Singapore's defence minister
said on Monday nine armoured vehicles seized in Hong Kong could
not be detained or confiscated and that the city-state had
repeatedly asked for their return.
Hong Kong customs seized the troop carriers in November as
they were being shipped from Taiwan to Singapore after military
exercises on the island that Beijing regards as a breakaway
province, sparking tension between Singapore and China.
Beijing, which regained sovereignty over the former British
colony of Hong Kong in 1997, then warned countries against
maintaining military ties with Taiwan.
Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, answering questions
in parliament, said the vehicles were Singapore government
"They are protected by sovereign immunity even though they
were being shipped by commercial carriers. They are immune from
any measures of constraint abroad. They cannot legally be
detained or confiscated by other countries," Ng said.
Ng added Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had
written to Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying to request
The seizure of the vehicles came amid mounting regional
uncertainty and signs of tension between China and Singapore,
which has deepened its security relationship with the United
States over the last year and remains concerned over Beijing's
assertive territorial stance in the South China Sea.
Singapore and Taiwan have a longstanding military
relationship that began in the 1970s and involves Taiwan being
used as grounds for Singaporean infantry training.
Beijing has grudgingly tolerated this agreement since China
and Singapore re-established diplomatic relations in the 1990s.
But China has repeatedly warned Singapore against getting
involved in the South China Sea dispute in which China asserts
sovereignty over various waters and islands claimed by the
Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Singapore has no claims in the South China Sea, but as the
biggest port in Southeast Asia, its open economy depends on free
navigation in the area.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when
Mao Zedong's Communist forces won the Chinese civil war and
Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has
vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
(Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Nick Macfie)