Asia Minute: Hong Kong’s Port Mystery

Nov 25, 2016

Credit Nam-ho Park / Flickr

A shipment from Taiwan to Singapore was held up this week in Hong Kong. It’s an unusual case that combines elements of business, diplomacy and the military. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Nine armored personnel carriers are stuck on a dock in Hong Kong.  They were found on a container ship bound from Taiwan to Singapore.  Singapore’s Defense Ministry says the vehicles were used in “routine overseas training” ...adding that the government expects “the shipment to return to Singapore expeditiously.”

But the case has quickly stretched beyond Hong Kong.  The South China Morning Post quotes sources as saying the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs will need to approve the return of the armored vehicles. One apparently unsettled question is whether a special license is required for such vehicles—as “strategic commodities.”

The South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong, seems to indicate a license is needed.  Coverage by the Singapore-based Straits Times suggests a special license is not needed.  Reuters quotes Tawainese media as saying the shipment should not have been stopped in Hong Kong.

Diplomatic complications come into play because of Singapore’s relations with the Beijing government.  Those relations cooled earlier this year when Singapore backed the Philippines in its dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea.

Singapore and Taiwan have quietly held joint military exercises for more than four decades…dating back to an agreement between the first president of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek and Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.