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Taiwan's new Beijing-friendly president sworn in

Latest update : 2008-05-20

Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan's new president, took office Tuesday, promising to restart high-level talks with Beijing, after eight years of tension under his pro-independence predecessor.

Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou took the oath of office as president Tuesday, two months after sweeping to victory on a pledge to mend fragile relations with China and revitalise the economy.

He succeeded Chen Shui-bian, whose pro-independence rhetoric during eight years in power irked not only Beijing, but also the United States for the way it spiked regional tensions.

Ma, a Harvard-educated former mayor of Taipei, was expected to reach out to Beijing -- which still claims sovereignty over the island -- in his inaugural address in front of some 15,000 people.

Reports here said he would appeal for a resumption of high-level dialogue that was suspended by China in 1995 in protest at a landmark US visit by Lee Teng-hui, who was then Taiwan's president.

Ma has already urged increased trade and tourism links, including regular direct flights, but has insisted he will not discuss reunification with the mainland.

He was also expected to voice his condolences to relatives of people killed by the devastating earthquake in China's southwest province of Sichuan.

Ma, 57, swore the oath in the presidential office in downtown Taipei, facing the national flag and a larger-than-life portrait of Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Republic of China which later became Taiwan.

"I vow to the people of the country that I will abide by the constitution to devote myself in serving the country," he said.

"I will faithfully perform my duties, promote the welfare of the people, safeguard the security of the country, and will in no way betray the people's trust.

"Should I break my oath, I shall be willing to submit myself to severe punishment by the country. This is my solemn oath."

His presidency returns the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party to power after eight years under Chen's Democratic Progressive Party.

Ma's running mate Vincent Siew was sworn in as vice president, followed by the cabinet, led by Premier Liu Chao-shiuan.

Chen, for his part, leaves office under the threat of being indicted in a high-profile corruption scandal that has already drawn in his wife.

Security in the capital was tight, with at least 2,000 police deployed and snipers position atop some buildings.

In a recent interview with AFP, Ma said he wanted to lay the foundations of a century of peace and prosperity.

Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949 after losing a civil war to the communists, but Beijing still regards the island as part of national territory and has threatened to invade if it declares independence.

Ma was expected in his address to reiterate his stance of no reunification but no independence either, and no use of force.

Nevertheless, there have been signs of a thaw since Ma's election victory.

A series of key Taiwanese figures have travelled to the mainland, notably Siew who met Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Immediately following the inauguration, KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung will fly over as the first ever ruling party chief from the self-ruled island to visit the mainland and meet Hu.

The targeted opening of weekend charter flights across the Strait on July 4 -- the first litmus of improved ties -- is expected to top the agenda of Wu's trip.

Direct transport links between Taiwan and China have been cut since 1949. Any Taiwanese wanting to fly to the mainland must transit via somewhere like Hong Kong, while visits here by Chinese tourists are severely restricted.

Despite the political rivalry, China has become Taiwan's number one export market and biggest trading partner. Two-way trade last year reached a record 102 billion US dollars.

Date created : 2008-05-20