Taiwan's Ma wins poll

22/03/2008 - 15:00

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.

But President-elect Ma Ying-jeou said he would onlyconsider signing a peace deal with China -- an offer Beijinghas made with conditions -- if it stopped aiming missiles atTaiwan.

China has claimed Taiwan as its territory since the end ofthe Chinese civil war in 1949 and has threatened to bring theisland under its control -- by force if necessary.

Taiwan says China has around 1,000 missiles aimed at theisland.

"Before we can talk about peace, we need to remove thethreat," Ma told reporters after announcing his victory tothousands of cheering supporters in downtown Taipei.

He said he had no immediate plans to go to China.

Chinese President Hu Jintao offered broad peace talks withTaiwan earlier this month, but under the so-called "one China"policy.

That contends the island and the mainland are part of asingle sovereign country, a concept Taiwan's current governmenthas rejected.

"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 Strait, they don'twant war," Ma told supporters who set off firecrackers incelebration.

The Harvard-educated former Taipei mayor won 58 percent ofthe vote, while the ruling Democratic Progressive Party'scandidate Frank Hsieh got 42 percent.

"I am deeply sorry. This is my personal defeat, notTaiwan's defeat, so don't be sad," Hsieh said.

Ma's win comes after his party, which once ruled all China,clinched a more than two-thirds majority in legislativeelections in January, giving it a clear mandate to push aheadwith their policies to boost an economy that has lagged someAsian peers.

Ma, who will take office in May, favours closer economicties and political dialogue with China.

Voters had to choose a successor to President ChenShui-bian, an anti-China firebrand who has repeatedly angeredBeijing with pro-independence rhetoric.

Hsieh's DPP favours formal independence while Ma'sNationalist Party wants reunification -- once China embracesdemocracy.

The election has drawn keen international attention, withthe United States, Russia and Britain all criticising referendaon UN membership, which were held alongside the vote and failedwithout the required number of people signing up.

UN membership is out of the question anyway with just 23countries recognising Taiwan, and with China, recognised by 170countries, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN SecurityCouncil.

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.

(Additional reporting by Taipei bureau; Writing by BenBlanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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