Singapore sings for return of Terrex army vehicles

Armoured vehicles belonging to the Singapore military are seen covered with tarpaulin at a customs facility in Hong Kong Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nine Singapore-made armoured military vehicles are currently being held by China

In late 2016, a cargo of Singaporean military vehicles was stopped in Hong Kong. They're still there and as the BBC's Heather Chen writes, Singaporeans have adopted a creative approach to demanding their return.

"Our island [is] very small, macham kuaci [like dried melon seeds]. No choice, we have to train [in] other countries," goes a jaunty number by Alvin Oon.

"Why you take my Terrex Chia [car]?"

Sung in a mixture of English, the Chinese dialect Hokkien and Malay, the song was intended to "express how the average Singaporean views this ongoing deadlock," said Mr Oon.

He wanted to contextualise the diplomatic standoff "concisely in a humorous song".

Diplomatic storm

The nine Terrex armoured carriers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were being shipped by a commercial carrier from Taiwan in November, where they had been used in routine Singaporean military training.

Image copyright AP
Image caption China asserted that its officials handled the dispute "in accordance with relevant laws"

The move by China to impound them kicked up an intense diplomatic storm, with Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen asserting that as property of a sovereign state the vehicles must be returned immediately.

"Singapore and Hong Kong have long enjoyed good and friendly relations. We hope the matter will be resolved satisfactorily and our friendly relations will endure," Mr Ng said.

China has not yet made clear exactly why it is still holding the vehicles, though there are suggestions it is related to the paperwork.

But the detention of the military assets has been seen by many in Singapore as Chinese retaliation against the tiny South East Asian nation, which has a long-standing relationship with Taiwan - considered by Beijing to be a breakaway province - and is seen as supporting countries which object to China's territorial claims in the region.

Chinese foreign affairs spokesman Lu Kang has said the seizure is lawful, and warned that Singapore has to "respect the laws". The authorities were handling the matter "in accordance with relevant regulations" he said and "we hope that all relevant sides can be cautious with their words and actions".

'Give Me Back My Terrex Chia' by Alvin Oon

Mr Oon's song is suffused with national pride and is vocal about what he sees as the unfairness at the unfolding situation.

The three-minute tune sings of the humble beginnings of the Singapore military, but its greater meaning is to see "the return of Singapore's 9 Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles".

"Why you take something that is not yours but mine?

Tolong tolong (Please, I beg you), please return our SAF property."

Image copyright YouTube: Alvin Oon

He told the BBC that the entire project took him two days to complete as a "one-man production". He recorded all the vocals, wrote the lyrics and composed the tune, in a cheesy karaoke style.

A music video on Mr Oon's YouTube account has been viewed close to 150,000 times and was shared widely on Facebook.

"Response has been overwhelming, very positive and encouraging," he said.

"Most people expressed how funny it was, saying they found a new national karaoke song. But if you take a look at the comments on my YouTube page, you'll see it's also become a political debate."

Image copyright YouTube: Alvin Oon

'Give Us Our Terrex Back' by mrbrown

The second song that became an instant hit among Singaporean netizens came from local social and political blogger Lee Kin Mun, more famously known as mrbrown.

Written by Lee and Marc Nair, Give Us Our Terrex Back was sung in Singlish to the tune of Lunar New Year favourite Gong Xi Gong Xi, heard everywhere at this time of year.

"Only transit [in] Hong Kong, kenna stuck there long long (Ended up being stuck there for a long time)

Don't know why you buay song (Not sure why you became unhappy)

Terrex now bah long long (How long do you need to check?)

Give us, give us, give us back,

Give us our Terrex back."

"The next time Singapore should make a seafaring Terrex vehicle that will able to come home from Taiwan by itself, instead of having to hitch a ride on a commercial shipping vessel," he told BBC News.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Many Singaporeans on Facebook noted the Lunar New Year 'bad luck' superstition of not returning someone else's property over the holiday

Lee's approach struck a chord with Singaporeans on Facebook, many noting that traditionally all debts are supposed to have been repaid by Lunar New Year, on 28 January.

"Return our vehicles back to Singapore before the Chinese New Year otherwise bad luck will follow you forever, China," wrote Facebook user Christine Soh.

Another user Eric Chiang agreed. "Yes - one cannot owe people anything over the Chinese New Year, you know."

Alvin Oon noted the Lunar New Year superstition of not returning goods taken by others.

"We all know that we should not owe people anything and should make good before the new year. Let's hope we can get our vehicles back before the holiday is over."

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