I don’t agree with a foreign power setting terms for my country, flexing its muscles to browbeat us into submission. I don’t think Singapore should become subservient to China just because they are bigger than us. I don’t think we should accede to conditions imposed by China – if indeed any conditions have been imposed – just to get the nine Terrex ICVs back more quickly.
That said, I also do not see why there is a need to line up slavishly behind the PAP government, or to feel a personal sense of outrage about the confiscation of military vehicles. Yes, China is being a bully, but there is more than the binary between “stand up and defend your nation” and “you’re a traitor with no sense of loyalty”.
I don’t agree with what China is doing, and am concerned by the extension of its authoritarian power, not because I hate China, but because authoritarianism that erodes freedoms and civil liberties goes against the values that I personally hold dear. This means that I’m also concerned about authoritarianism within Singapore, which is why I feel a lot less about nine infantry carrier vehicles – a currently awkward political and diplomatic situation – than about the lack of political rights, due process and checks on power in Singapore, which have already had impact on the lives of many Singaporeans for many years, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Some people talk about the need to “defend our country” as if this Terrex saga is an existential threat and war has already been declared. But threats can come in many forms, and if we want to defend Singapore we need to ask ourselves what it is that we want to defend. Do we want to defend our country from China just because they are a Them and we are an Us? Or is there something more about Singapore that we care about, that we want to protect?
In the past year alone we have seen activists called up for hours of questioning, their devices arbitrarily confiscated (without warrant, because in Singapore the police doesn’t need one when so many offences are classified as “seizable”). Some of this property has been with the police for about half a year now, even though the police has not charged anyone with any offence, nor provided an explanation as to why the devices have to be held for so long. There is no assurance that the activists’ privacy is being respected, that the police aren’t digging through their internet history, their emails, their chat logs – even if this data has nothing to do with the actual offence that they claim to be investigating.
That the authorities have so much power, unchecked, are things that should worry every Singaporean. The lack of due process and accountability is far more likely to have an immediate impact on our lives than a petulant foreign power trying to squeeze every bit of leverage out of nine Terrex chia. (And these are problems that will remain even if the vehicles are eventually returned.)
Just because some of us don’t really care about the Terrex ICVs doesn’t mean we don’t care about Singapore. There are more than two positions that can be taken here. Perhaps some of us aren’t particularly moved by confiscated military hardware because we want to focus more on fighting for the things that would make Singapore a place worth defending.