Chinese Tabloid Riles Singapore in South China Sea Spat


A joint China-Russia naval drill off south China's Guangdong Province on Sept. 18, 2016.
A joint China-Russia naval drill off south China’s Guangdong Province on Sept. 18, 2016. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS
By Chun Han Wong
The New York Times

Tensions between Singapore and Beijing over the South China Sea moved to a new front this week: a tabloid newspaper.

Singapore’s ambassador to China has engaged in unusually public sparring with influential Chinese tabloid the Global Times over the city-state’s posture on regional maritime disputes.

The spat arose after the newspaper reported that Singaporean delegates at a recent international summit lobbied aggressively to add sterner language about the South China Sea to the meeting’s final communique. The requested wording, according to the Global Times, included references to a recent international ruling that rejected Beijing’s claims to certain rights in the strategic waters.

The report prompted the Singaporean envoy to criticize the Global Times, a popular Communist Party-controlled newspaper, for publishing an “irresponsible report replete with fabrications.” His protestations, however, were met with defiance from the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who stood by the article and accused Singapore of “damaging China’s interests.”

The verbal duel is exposing anew a longstanding resentment in China, both official and popular, at Singapore’s perceived partiality in the South China Sea disputes. Beijing’s assertions of sovereignty to almost the entire sea overlap with claims from several Southeast Asian countries.

Though Singapore isn’t a claimant and has professed its neutrality in the disputes, the small island state has championed a “rules-based international order.” That has irked some in China, who see Singapore as siding with U.S.-led efforts to pressure Beijing into accepting the international tribunal ruling in July that rejected China’s claims to historic and economic rights in the South China Sea. Beijing has repeatedly denounced that ruling as illegitimate and void.

Criticism of Singapore has regularly appeared in the Global Times, which is known for its nationalistic views. In the past, the criticisms generally appeared as opinion pieces. Last week, a news report took Singapore to task with factual allegations about proceedings at this month’s Non-Aligned Movement summit.

Citing anonymous sources, the Global Times reported that the Singapore delegation lobbied in vain for the summit’s outcome document to include references to the tribunal ruling. The report said Singaporean delegates grew “exasperated” and made “hostile attacks” against other countries, while going on to challenge the summit chair, Venezuela, for not accepting its proposal.

Singapore’s ambassador to China, Stanley Loh, challenged the Global Times report in a Monday letter, saying it “attributed actions and words to Singapore which are false and unfounded.”

According to Mr. Loh, Singapore didn’t raise the South China Sea or the tribunal ruling at the summit. He said the proposal to revise the summit communique was made collectively by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which wanted the document to reflect regional concerns over recent South China Sea tensions.

“As Chairman of Asean, Laos protested on behalf of all ten Asean countries to the NAM Chair on its improper decision to reject Asean’s updates,” Mr. Loh wrote. He cited a letter penned by the Laos delegation to Venezuela’s foreign minister expressing Asean’s objections to the summit communique.

The Global Times’s editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, defended the report and questioned Mr. Loh’s account. “As an ambassador based in China, you probably didn’t attend the meeting in Venezuela and weren’t a participant,” Mr. Hu wrote in an open letter published Tuesday.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also waded in, criticizing “individual countries” for trying to insert the South China Sea issue into the summit’s outcome document.

Mr. Loh, the Singaporean envoy, refused to back down.


“Global Times did not attend the meetings and had to rely on information from unnamed sources,” he wrote in a Wednesday letter, adding that Singapore’s account “can be verified by the public record of the meeting.”

Has the ambassador had the last word? The Global Times published the Singaporean envoy’s first letter on its website Tuesday and in its print editions Wednesday, but didn’t mention or run the Laos delegation letter on behalf of Asean. As of Thursday morning, the newspaper hasn’t replied to the second Singapore letter, or published it.

—Chun Han Wong. Follow him on Twitter @ByChunHan.


 (On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China “nine dash line claim” in the South China Sea was not valid. The court was also highly critical of China’s environmental destruction in the South China Sea.) (See Below)

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One Response to “Chinese Tabloid Riles Singapore in South China Sea Spat”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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