BEIJING (Reuters) - China wants to improve its military relationship with Singapore, but is resolutely opposed to any country having defence ties with self-ruled Taiwan, China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday, obliquely criticising Singapore’s Taiwan links.
China is suspicious of the city state’s good military relations both with the United States and Taiwan, claimed by China as its own.
Singaporean troops train in Taiwan, despite a lack of formal diplomatic relations between the two, which has been an irritant in China-Singapore ties.
Last November, Hong Kong port authorities impounded nine Singaporean armoured military vehicles being shipped home from training grounds in Taiwan, leading to tensions between Singapore and China. Hong Kong later released the vehicles.
Asked about a visit of Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen to China last week and speculation this may lead Singapore to end its military training in Taiwan, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said relations with Singapore’s military had been generally developing smoothly.
There are high level talks, mutual visits of warships and other exchanges, which has deepened mutual understanding and achieved practical results, Wu told a monthly news briefing.
“China is willing to work with Singapore to create favourable conditions to develop an even more mature military relationship,” he said.
“I also want to stress here that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. We resolutely oppose any country having any form of official exchanges with Taiwan or military links.”
Ng’s meeting with Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan came as part of a trip to Beijing by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, where there was no public mention of the Taiwan matter.
Influential state-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times said last week that it was “inevitable” the military training in Taiwan would end, though it offered no proof.
Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a wayward province under its rule.
Ties across the Taiwan Strait have nosedived since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections last year. China suspects she wants to push for the island’s formal independence. She says she wants to maintain peace with her giant neighbour.
In recent months, Chinese air force jets have carried out a series of drills around Taiwan which have included bombers and advanced fighter jets.
Spokesman Wu reiterated that the drills were routine.
“We will continue with such exercises,” he added.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry declined to comment.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Jessica Macy Yu in TAIPEI; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore