China

Beijing had no role in Terrex seizure, says Hong Kong

Beijing had no role in Terrex seizure, says Hong Kong
Handout picture from MINDEF of SAF troops using the Terrex. Photo: MINDEF
Published: 4:00 AM, January 26, 2017
Updated: 1:48 PM, January 26, 2017

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s Customs chief yesterday denied suggestions that Beijing was involved in the investigation into nine armoured personnel carriers belonging to Singapore that were seized in the Chinese-controlled territory.

Commissioner Roy Tang said his department was acting only under Hong Kong law when it impounded the nine SAF Terrex infantry carriers and other equipment.

Hong Kong Customs is only authorised to enforce the Hong Kong law.

Commissioner Roy Tang, Hong Kong’s customs chief

“Hong Kong Customs is only authorised to enforce the Hong Kong law. We have no role to play in any enforcement or work other than laws applicable to Hong Kong, so there’s no such implication,’’ Mr Tang said when asked whether Beijing had any role in the case and whether there were any political considerations in returning the vehicles.

“We are a Hong Kong law enforcement agency,’’ he added, making the points repeatedly during a news briefing. “The central government is, of course, aware of the issue.”

He spoke a day after the Hong Kong government said the vehicles would be returned to Singapore following an investigation into a suspected violation of rules governing the shipment of “strategic commodities’’.

The vehicles were being sent back home via Hong Kong after military training exercises in Taiwan when they were seized in November.

Mr Tang said authorities are weighing a criminal prosecution, but he was not in a position to divulge the parties under scrutiny, nor any charges.

Details would be made public in court, if it came to that, he said.

But he ruled out targeting Singapore because its government was not found to be involved in any breach of shipping rules.

“The Singaporean Government, from the very beginning, has not been the subject of investigation,’’ he said. “We did not identify any information which points to the possibility of the Singapore Government being involved in the breach of the licensing conditions.”

He added that the commercial shipper APL could move the armoured personnel carriers after all relevant paperwork had been completed.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Hong Kong handled the case “in accordance with the law’’.

“The Chinese government has consistently opposed official exchanges in any form, including military interactions and co-operation, between Taiwan and countries having relationships with China,’’ she said. “China has made representations with Singapore about this and hopes the Singapore Government earnestly and scrupulously abides by the One China principle,” she added, reiterating comments that the Chinese side had made on the issue earlier.

Hong Kong is a specially administered Chinese region that has considerable autonomy and retains a separate legal system from the mainland under the “one country, two systems’’ principle.

Singapore and Taiwan have a longstanding military relationship that began in the 1970s and involves Taiwan being used as a training ground by Singapore troops.

Beijing deems Taiwan a wayward province that is part of China, to be taken back by force if necessary. AGENCIES