End of ‘Starlight program’ inevitable
After Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to Beijing Tuesday, some media speculated that the 42-yearold tradition of Singapore training its soldiers in Taiwan would come to an end. Though there hasn’t been any official announcement, such military exchanges should have been stopped long ago.
The “Starlight program” is an unsolved problem between China and Singapore. In 1975, then Taiwan leader Chiang Ching-kuo and then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew signed the program. Since then, Singapore has been sending troops almost every year to Taiwan for training, more than 10,000 soldiers in peak years.
When Singapore gained independence, Taiwan provided assistance to establish its military. As a tiny country, Singapore also lacks space for military training. Singapore may also have wanted to play between the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan.
Taiwan wanted to use this cooperation with Singapore to prevent the latter from fully supporting the mainland. The US is fond of seeing Singapore and Taiwan maintain this bond, as both of them are its pawns.
The Chinese mainland has tolerated the “Starlight program” for a long time due to historical reasons. The illegitimate nature of this program means it will be increasingly difficult to carry on. At a time when the Tsai Ing-wen administration of Taiwan refused to recognize the 1992 Consensus and Singapore also turned its back on the Chinese mainland, the “Starlight program” became conspicuously peculiar. Last September, when Singapore’s armored vehicles were intercepted in Hong Kong on their way back from Taiwan, this program was exposed.
When cross-Straits relations were stable and Sino-Singaporean ties sound, the Chinese mainland tolerated the “Starlight program.” However, this program no doubt damages the one-China principle. The Chinese mainland reserves its right to change its approach to it at any time.
Singapore has long sensed the short life of this program, which is why it has leased a large training facility in Australia.
It was the Hong Kong media that first reported the uncertainty of the “Starlight program,” which created huge waves in Taiwan.
Not long ago, Taiwan lost “diplomatic relations” with Panama, and it will be a huge blow if it soon loses the “Starlight program.” While it cannot be verified whether such reports are true or what’s behind them, many Taiwan media attribute it to Tsai’s refusal to accept the 1992 Consensus. Such reflections are reasonable, as changes to cross-Straits relations have been caused by the disappearance of a political basis between the mainland and Taiwan.