So, Hong Kong investigative news outlet FactWire broke the news on Tuesday (5 Jul 16) afternoon that a number of SMRT trains have been recalled back to China due to some defects. The news caused quite a bit of stir among Singaporeans.

With its use of sensationalist language, such as “secretly returning” – suggesting that LTA had something to hide, Factwire helped fuel a scare over the safety of public transport in Singapore.

Speculative websites such as The Independent Singapore, All Singapore Stuff, The Online Citizen took the chance to spin the story further and took potshots at the government – calling them deceptive and untruthful. Their headlines helped seed the unnecessary anxiety further

But as we now know, it wasn’t really as bad as people initially thought.

LTA actually exercised due diligence by inspecting all trains after discovering the hairline cracks. And they sent the defective trains back for repairs even though these trains were still fit for service.

I do think that there was no real need for LTA and MOT to inform us about the small defects earlier, since they were not safety risks and would be replaced at no additional cost to the government. Additionally, it also had no impact to the service that it is currently providing

And seriously guys, commercial recalls are more common than we think. (seriously!)

There have been high profile recalls involving not just PRC firms. Even reputable German carmaker Volkswagen had massive recalls involving thousands of cars due to defects. And Sweden’s IKEA recently had a worldwide recall of dressers after they were deemed to be a safety risk to young children.

I don’t think it is fair to criticise the government for opting for China-made trains.

After all, China is now the world’s factory – how to avoid China-made goods? Even your Iphone is made-in-China. Probably more than 50% of our household goods are made-in-China, or contain parts that are assembled in China. Sure, by all means purchase wholly made-in-Japan trains. But are Singaporeans prepared to pay $3 per train ride, like what the Japanese pay?

Now, back to Factwire. Why is a HK-based media outlet reporting on SMRT trains?

A very possible link – PRC firm CSR Sifang, the manufacturer of the SMRT trains, is also the “same PRC manufacturer that is responsible for manufacturing 9 trains for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XLR), and 93 trains for Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) four urban lines.” This quote came from Factwire themselves.

It is no secret that there is little love between Hong Kongers and the mainland Chinese, with tensions escalating in recent years. And it seems like Factwire might be using this news to push a political agenda – to paint PRC trains in a negative light, and to exert pressure on the Hong Kong government.

Factwire’s latest piece on the issue (you can read it here) quite clearly shows this political angle.

Factwire has earlier reported on issues concerning mainland China that might have an impact on Hong Kong. In May 2016, they ran investigative pieces into a nuclear plant in Guangdong that is just 130km away from Hong Kong, which sparked public safety concerns.

It is thus likely that Singapore’s SMRT was a mere chess piece that was used as a pawn in Hong Kong’s spat with China. Truth is usually the first victim in a war, in this case, a war of words between Hong Kong and China. The Hong Kongers sensationalised a story to push their own agenda, but the undiscerning lapped it all up.

That said however, this doesn’t mean that MOT and LTA handled the situation well.

First, according to Factwire, LTA did not respond to requests for comments before they ran the story. Which is stupid – letting someone else control the narrative when you have an opportunity to clear the air. (Seems like the government hasn’t learn from the Internet Ban Surfing Separation episode)

Second, when the news first broke, the government didn’t react fast enough to address concerns.

LTA’s first press statement (issued on 5.37pm on 5 Jul 16) lacked lots of details, which fueled even more questions.

LTA’s second press statement (issued on 10.07pm on 6 Jul 16, more than 24 hours later) finally answered some questions. (But it came too late)

You would think that with some many rumors and controversy surrounding the issue, MOT or LTA would have called a press conference to quell mis-truths and address concerns from the public. Instead, they relied on press statements (and more press statements).

Something for the government to think about.Better get their act together or face the never ending ridicule online. (which may be enjoyable for us to read at the start but awfully painful at the end – to know that the people’s effort of sincerely wanting to make the transport system better was being mercilessly mocked)