Update [Jan 3, 1400hrs]: The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department responded to queries from Lianhe Zaobao , saying that the “suspected controlled items are still kept at a storage place of Customs in Tuen Mun and had “been stored indoors since Dec 6.”
According to Hong Kong media, the nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs) that were impounded after being seized by China on Nov. 23, 2016, have “suddenly vanished”, Channel 8 news reported on Jan. 2, 2017.
In case you were away for vacation between Christmas to New Year, here is a quick update of the developments regarding our Terrex vehicles:
First, MINDEF announced on the eve of Christmas eve (23 Dec) that they have communicated its formal position to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) on the issue, adding that they “await a full resolution of this matter and return of our property by the Hong Kong SAR Government”.
Second, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen managed Singaporeans’ expectations regarding the ICVs’ quick return on the eve of New Year’s eve (30 Dec) by saying that while “the detention of our Terrexes by Hong Kong authorities was a low point in 2016 from the defence perspective”, the Terrex issue “does not pose an existential threat or even a potential threat” like terrorism.
In other words, news of the nine “suddenly vanished” ICVs at the turn of the new year could be perceived as good news or not-so-good news. So here are two ways to read the latest developments.
Good: Is the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting occuring soon?
The relocation of the nine ICVs could signal the beginning of a process to return them to Singapore. This act would remove the elephant in the room and likely help improve the overall mood for Singapore and China to resume interactions at the highest level.
JCBC is the top institutional mechanism for bilateral cooperation. Last year, the JCBC meeting did not take place for the first time in 13 years even though it was China’s turn to host.
With the Chinese New Year coming up soon in late January and the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (“Lianghui” i.e. “Two Meetings” by its top legislature and political advisory body) taking place in March, chances of the JCBC meeting being held in the first quarter of 2017 diminishes as everyday passes, and it is probably a good thing to get it out of the way early in the year to set the tone for bilateral cooperation in 2017.
Not-so-good: Will our ICVs come back in one piece?
A previous stand-off involving a South Korean armoured vehicle in Hong Kong took 51 days to resolve, and we are set to break this record if the latest developments mean more meetings and negotiations.
This brings to mind another international incident in April 2001, where a damaged US Navy surveillance plane was stranded on Hainan island for more than two months since it made an emergency landing there after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.
Chinese officials had refused to let the U.S. plane be repaired and flown out or removed by U.S. planes and it was finally agreed by both countries to partly dismantle the plane and returned it using a commercial cargo plane.
Let’s just hope we do not have to put
Humpty Dumpty the ICVs back together again.
Top photo screenshot via.