Asean has part to play in China-Taiwan relationship

The relationship between China and Taiwan has turned fragile ("Taiwan and China - potentially solid ties, but handle with care"; last Tuesday).

How the new Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government is going to tackle the many sticky issues with China remains unknown.

Topping the risk list is DPP's stance on the 1992 Consensus established by the Kuomintang (KMT) regime with China with regard to the "one China principle".

So far, the DPP has not given any clear position on the 1992 Consensus. It said only that it would maintain Taiwan's relations with China as status quo.

After the 1992 Consensus, many agreements had been signed between China and the KMT government on trade, investments and other matters.

Any dispute over the 1992 Consensus now could spin into diplomatic and even military conflict, if it is not handled well.

The other uncertainty relates to the DPP's position with regard to China's maritime claims in the region. Will Taiwan remain neutral, or side with China or third parties?

The Taiwanese have now become polarised, socially and politically. They are deeply divided over the "one China principle".

With the elections over, political parties should forge unity among the people, and should not further politicise any contentious issue.

They should help the people understand the prospects, risks and options objectively, and put Taiwan's interest above that of individual parties.

A healthy China-Taiwan relationship benefits Asean.

We cannot remain onlookers, but must play a constructive part to prevent any worsening of the fragile relationship.

Asean nations, individually and collectively, should act fast to help the two solve any dispute that emerges.

A mishandling of the conflict between China and Taiwan could erupt into a severe regional war.

The Chinese too should show restraint and calm in dealing with their brothers and sisters across the strait.

The uneasy relationship has created anxiety and urgency, especially with the upcoming inauguration of Taiwan's new government on Friday.

Asean nations should take a proactive approach and start working now to prepare ourselves for any eventuality and extend our help when needed.

Albert Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Asean has part to play in China-Taiwan relationship'. Print Edition | Subscribe