Nine Singaporean military vehicles seized by the Hong Kong authorities have been moved from their previous location to an indoor site at a Tuen Mun terminal.

A shipment of Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles and other Singaporean military hardware has been held in Hong Kong since November 23 last year. The equipment was first held at the Kwai Chung Container Terminal, following a request for routine inspections by Customs. The shipment was then moved to the Tuen Mun River Trade Terminal on November 25. On Monday, reports emerged that the vehicles had disappeared.

However, the Customs and Excise Department told HKFP on Tuesday that the case was still under investigation and the “suspected controlled items are still kept at a storage place of Customs in Tuen Mun. They have been stored indoors since December 6.”

Singapore military vehicle

Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) confirmed that the vehicles were used by its armed forces in routine overseas training and shipped back via commercial means, as with previous exercises. The exercises were often hosted in Taiwan.

One China principle 

News agency FactWire previously cited sources as saying that mainland law enforcement authorities tipped off Hong Kong Customs about the nine vehicles after the ship carrying them docked in the coastal sea port of Xiamen in southeastern China’s Fujian province, before the seizure.

On November 28, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said “The Chinese side is firmly opposed to any forms of official interaction between Taiwan and countries that have diplomatic relations with us, military exchanges and cooperation included. We require the Singaporean government to stick to the one China principle.”

armoured vehicles
Nine armoured vehicles and three containers carrying firearms and military materials were moved to the Customs Cargo Examination Compound at Tuen Mun River Trade Terminal. Photo: Factwire.

Following that, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok was asked if the mainland instructed Hong Kong authorities to detain the shipment. He said, on December 3, that an investigation was underway and that Customs would not enforce the law selectively.

According to press releases from the MINDEF, a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team arrived in Hong Kong at on November 26 to meet with representatives from APL – the container carrier company – to assess the situation.

APL then met with Hong Kong Customs on November 29.

“Formal reasons for the detention of the Terrex ICVs were not yet provided but customs officials hoped to complete their investigation soon,” read a press release on December 1.

armoured vehicles
Nine armoured vehicles and three containers carrying firearms and military materials were moved to the Customs Cargo Examination Compound at Tuen Mun River Trade Terminal. Photo: Factwire.

It added that Hong Kong Customs had provided security guards stationed 24-hours at the site housing the vehicles.

More meetings between APL and Customs were held on December 1 and 6, although again no formal reasons for the detention were given.

A release on December 23 said: “We await a full resolution of this matter and [the] return of our property by the Hong Kong SAR Government.”

Terrex AV-81 Infantry Carrier Vehicle.
Singapore displays the Terrex AV-81 Infantry Carrier Vehicle.

On December 30, Singapore’s defence minister Ng Eng Hen wrote on Facebook that the detention “was a low point in 2016 from the defence perspective” for most Singaporeans including the MINDEF and the country’s armed forces.

“The SAF will learn from this episode and has already changed its practices to better protect our assets,” he wrote. “But all of us are of course upset that the Terrexes, our property, have not been returned to Singapore.”

“We have been working at all levels of Government these past two months to effect their return, quietly and out of the limelight where it is more effective. I will say more in the next Parliament sitting, but we should view that incident in its proper context.”

The next sitting of the Singaporean Parliament will be on January 9.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.