It certainly earned Singapore a unusual public reprimand from China.
“China opposes any country with which it has established diplomatic ties from conducting any official exchanges, including military, and cooperation with Taiwan. We urge the Singapore government to keep its promise to the One China principle,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.
Singapore said the vehicles were used “in routine overseas training and shipped back via commercial means as with previous exercises” and no ammunition was on board.
Teaching Singapore a lesson?
Zhang Baohui, a professor of political science at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, said that Singapore had a long-standing defense ties with Taiwan and has often used the island for training drills given a lack of space in the crowded city state.
“I don’t think that China has given Singapore a public rebuke for this before,” Zhang said. “I think the real issue is that China thinks Singapore has turned into a quasi US ally.”
“In the context of deteriorating relations, it could be a Chinese strategy to teach Singapore a lesson and a way to indicate their unhappiness,” he added.
Singapore has strengthened military ties with the US and taken a tough stance on the South China Sea dispute, urging China to abide by an international tribunal that ruled its claims to the waters were unlawful, said Zhang.
Taiwan’s defense ministry declined to comment, saying the troop carriers didn’t belong to its military. Hong Kong Customs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Singapore prides itself on its rule of law and its place in the international community and this complicates China’s interest and what happens in its sphere of influence,” she said.
Chiu added that Beijing was also likely sending a warning signal to Taiwan’s new President Tsai Ing-wen, who is from a traditionally pro-independence party.
“It seems like Beijing is starting to feel it needs to be more heavy handed and nip these things in the bud,” said Chiu.
CNN’s Rebecca Wright in Hong Kong and Serena Dong in Beijing contributed to this report