Relations between Singapore and China are deteriorating as Beijing increases its assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Asia-Pacific region in general.

Singapore has run afoul of Beijing as China seeks to capitalize on the uncertainty regarding Washington’s plans for Asia going forward following the election of Donald Trump. Consequently, Beijing-linked media outlets have recently criticized the micro-state for its close ties to the U.S.

While Singapore’s stated goal is to maintain amicable relations with as many countries as possible, its security agreement with the United States, which sees the country play host to American naval and aerial assets, has become a thorn in Beijing’s side. While close ties with the U.S are nothing new – indeed the U.S navy has long used Singapore as a staging area for its patrols of the Strait of Malacca, recent events have caused Beijing to become increasingly sensitive.

Firstly, Singapore’s support of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which dismissed China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, combined with its call for ASEAN unity and a diplomatic framework on the issue has put the micro-state in Beijing’s cross-hairs. More pertinently, this past week has seen a concerted effort by China to send a clear message to Singapore. Current tensions surround the seizure of nine Singaporean armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in Hong Kong. These vehicles were returning from training exercises in Taiwan, yet Chinese authorities claimed that they were not listed in the ship’s manifest.

Heated war of words cooling relations

What makes this event noteworthy is that firstly, Hong Kong is a common port of call for foreign militaries, and secondly that Singapore has been conducting the aforementioned exercises with Taiwan since 1975, under the name Operation Starlight.

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