By Ralph Jennings
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's main opposition NationalistParty won the presidential election by a landslide on Saturday,heralding improved ties with giant neighbour China which claimsthe self-ruled island as its own.
Nationalist, or Kuomintang (KMT), candidate Ma Ying-jeouwon 58 percent of the vote, while the ruling DemocraticProgressive Party's candidate Frank Hsieh got 42 percent.
"This is not a victory for us and not a victory for theNationalists," Ma told thousands of cheering supporters indowntown Taipei as firecrackers added to the volume on citystreets.
"The people of Taiwan hope for clean government, with nocorruption. Taiwan people hope for a flourishing economy. Thepeople of Taiwan hope for peace across the straits, they don'twant war."
Party supporters let off firecrackers and fireworks, whileDPP supporters shed tears.
Hsieh admitted defeat and congratulated Ma.
"I am deeply sorry. This is my personal defeat, notTaiwan's defeat, so don't be sad," he said.
Saturday's win comes after the Nationalists, who once ruledall China, clinched a more than two-thirds majority inlegislative elections in January, giving them a clear mandateto push ahead with their policies to boost an economy which haslagged some of its Asian peers.
Ma favours closer economic ties and political dialogue withChina, which claims Taiwan as its own and has never renouncedthe use of force to bring the island under its control.
Voters had to choose a successor to President ChenShui-bian, an anti-China firebrand who steps down in May andwho has repeatedly angered Beijing with his pro-independencerhetoric.
China has claimed Taiwan as its territory since the end ofthe Chinese civil war in 1949.
Hsieh's DPP favours formal independence while Ma'sNationalist Party wants eventual reunification once Chinaembraces democracy.
The election has drawn keen international attention, withthe United States, Russia and Britain criticising a referendumon U.N. membership, that was held alongside the vote and failedto get the required level of voter participation to beconsidered valid.
U.N. membership is out of the question anyway with just 23countries recognising Taiwan, and with China a veto-wieldingpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition fromTaiwan to China in 1979, under a "one China" policy, butremains the island's main arms supplier and No. 2 tradingpartner. Taiwan's official name is the "Republic of China".
Two U.S. aircraft carriers are in the region for trainingexercises. China fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in 1996,trying to intimidate voters during an election, but has kept afairly low profile in the current race.
The two candidates had toughened their stances on Chinafollowing Beijing's crackdown in Tibet, but to help theeconomy, both advocate more direct flights, tourism andinvestment opportunities between Taiwan and China.
Ma advocates a common market with China.
(Additional reporting by Taipei bureau; Editing by NickMacfie)