In the three decades since Singapore and China established ties, they have had two tense diplomatic incidents. Both have been over the self-ruled island of Taiwan , with which Singapore maintains military ties, even as it has grown closer with Beijing economically and politically. As the US-China rivalry continues to deepen – with tensions escalating over Taiwan in recent weeks – Singapore will have to once again play a balancing role in safeguarding its own interests while not being accused of undermining those of juggernaut China’s. If the US and China go to war, whose side is Southeast Asia on? In 2004, Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong , who was then deputy prime minister, visited Taiwan, leading China to make one of its angriest rebukes towards the city state since both established diplomatic ties in 1990. China said the visit undermined Sino-Singapore relations and indicated support for Taiwan’s separatist aims. It pointed out that Singapore’s interests – as a land-scarce nation that has to look overseas for large-scale military exercises – should not be based on the sacrifice of China’s interests and sovereignty. The city state should realise the severity of the matter and take practical measures to win Beijing’s trust, China’s foreign ministry said. After the incident, the governor of the People’s Bank of China at the time, Zhou Xiaochuan, called off his visit to Singapore, while 126 Chinese officials and mayors cancelled their training in Singapore. More than a decade later in November 2016, Hong Kong impounded nine armoured military vehicles that were being shipped from Taiwan back to Singapore after having taken part in routine training exercises. A displeased Beijing made it clear that it resolutely opposed countries that had diplomatic ties with China to have any form of official contact with Taiwan, including military exchanges and cooperation. Many observers at the time said Beijing’s umbrage also had to do with what it saw as Singapore’s support of the ruling by an international tribunal that favoured the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea sovereignty disputes. Singapore’s military vehicles were released two months later. Singapore PM flags unprecedented ‘degree of animus’ in US-China rivalry In the past two weeks, in light of the US stepping up its engagement with Taiwan, Beijing has sent warplanes across the Taiwan Strait, prompting Taipei to call it a “deliberate provocation” and dispatch air patrols. As the date of the likely-tumultuous US presidential election draws near, rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait will pose uncertainties for Singapore as it marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties with China on Saturday. Singapore has often reiterated that a conflict across the waters will have dire consequences not just for the involved parties, but the entire region. During the 1995 Taiwan Strait crisis, China fired missiles and conducted live ammunition exercises after Taiwan’s then president Lee Teng-hui visited the US, and again in early 1996 to warn Taiwan voters not to vote for Lee. The latter event prompted the US to send two aircraft carriers in what was said to be the biggest display of American military might in Asia since the Vietnam war. More than 70 per cent of commercial shipping was disrupted, while flights and ships were either delayed or had to take a detour. Singapore minister: US, China divide a concern as they have shared goals Last year, Singapore renewed a 30-year-old pact with Washington granting US forces access to its naval and air bases. Analysts said this was a clear sign that the US viewed the city state as a vital part of its Asia strategy. It is well and good that Singapore has not commented publicly on the situation in the Taiwan Strait. It has also previously said it does not want to choose sides in the US-China rivalry. But perhaps the city state can play a part in easing tensions by advocating more robust crisis management mechanisms in collaboration with other countries in the region, especially Japan. There is also the hope that China, which needs all the allies it can get in view of its strained ties with the US and India, will not risk escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait, or worse, force its friends in the region, including Singapore, to take sides.