Thu, Nov 06, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Singapore troops in China cast cloud on Taiwan military ties

By Lo Tien-pin and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Singapore’s RSS Formidable participates in a multinational military drill held by Beijing near Qingdao, China, in April.

Screengrab from the Republic of Singapore Navy Web site

The 40-year cooperation between the Republic of China Army and the Singapore Army may be at risk after the city-state sent 70 soldiers to China to an eight-day joint exercise with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Sunday.

The Singaporean soldiers sent to China are from “Project Starlight,” an agreement reached between former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and then-Singaporean prime minister Lee Kwan Yew (李光耀) in 1974 and ratified in 1975 under which Taiwan’s military helps train Singaporean troops in the so-called Starlight Exercises.

The government will closely monitor the joint exercises between the PLA and the Singaporean troops, the Ministry of National Defense said.

Whether the presence of the city-state’s troops at the Chinese military exercise signifies the termination of the Starlight agreement or that Singapore is changing partners from Taiwan to China remains to be seen, the ministry said.

To date, the Singaporean government has not made any changes to the pact and is continuing joint training with Taiwan, it added.

The ministry said it would try to ascertain whether the exercises with China are a one-off event, or if they represent the beginning of normalized joint military training between the two countries.

Ministry officials said that while the Singapore Army joined anti-terrorism exercises with China in 2009 and 2010, there was a significant difference between those drills and a string of recent ones.

Ministry officials said there has been a subtle shift in Singapore’s policy that has seen its army increase dialogue with its Chinese counterpart. The two sides conducted a joint military exercise in April, another in August and in September, the Singapore Army sent a company of troops to conduct joint exercises in the PLA’s Nanjing Military District, they said.

In addition to the increasing familiarity between the Singaporean and Chinese armies, the ministry said the Republic of Singapore Navy has also been reaching out to its Chinese counterpart.

According to the ministry, the Republic of Singapore Navy had sent one of its Formidable-class frigates — a derivative of the French Lafayette class — to attend an exercise with China, adding that as the Formidable-class is an upgraded Lafayette derivative equivalent to the Republic of China Navy’s Kang Ting-class, this interaction could affect future upgrades of the Taiwanese frigates.

The RSS Formidable attended a multinational naval exercise off Qingdao, China, in April, while the RSS Steadfast visited the People’s Liberation Army Navy South Sea Fleet.

The ministry said the nation’s Kang Ting-class frigates are nearing the time for crucial upgrades, which include increasing their vertical missile launch systems and replacing the MIM-72 Chaparral missiles they carry with domestically manufactured Sky Sword II missiles.

The Sky Sword II anti-aircraft missile system can be carried by platforms across all the military’s branches. The Chaparral missiles were originally made to be surface-launched anti-aircraft missiles and were developed by the US Army.

The possibility of China increasing its familiarity with Lafayette-class ships through interaction with Singapore’s Formidable-class vessels is a huge factor in determining if Taiwan’s navy will maintain its current upgrade plans or seek alternatives, the ministry said.

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