End of ‘Starlight pro­gram’ in­evitable

Global Times - Weekend - - OPINION -

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.

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