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Taiwan's Ma signals no China change as term starts

Taiwan's president began his second term Sunday and signaled he will maintain a China policy that has reduced tensions between the sides, offering Beijing little early hope of realizing its long-term goal of unification.

Speaking at a low-key inaugural ceremony in Taipei's ornate presidential office building, Ma Ying-jeou hewed to the same formula for relations across the 160-kilometer-wide (100-mile-wide) Taiwan Strait he championed during his first term.

"Our cross-strait policy must maintain the status quo of 'no unification, no independence and no use of force,'" Ma said.

He reaffirmed his support for the so-called 1992 Consensus, an informal agreement reached by representatives of the sides accepting that there is only one China — and not one China, and one Taiwan, which is the stance of many in Taiwan's pro-independence opposition. But Ma enunciated his position in a way apparently calculated to leave hard-liners in Beijing disappointed.

"When we speak of one China, naturally it is the Republic of China," he said.

The Republic of China is the exiled government that Nationalist icon Chiang Kai-shek brought with him to Taiwan in 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communist forces prevailed in the Chinese civil war.

Beijing sees it as a historical relic that lost its legitimacy when Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China 63 years ago. Since then, Chinese leaders have always insisted that Taiwan must be brought under their control, by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.

Ma won re-election in January largely by assuring voters that he would safeguard their hard-won democratic freedoms, while simultaneously moving forward with his signature policy of tying Taiwan's high-tech economy ever closer to China's lucrative markets. That formula has helped to lower cross-strait tensions to their lowest level in six decades.

His remarks on Sunday — reaffirming his opposition to unification and his fealty to the Republic of China — make it clear that he still supports that path.

Despite Ma's relatively comfortable re-election victory — he won by six percentage points — he begins his second term under the shadow of deep-seated voter dissatisfaction with his overall performance. A particular focus is his economic policies, including a recent decision to raise utility rates.

Tens of thousands of anti-Ma protesters gathered in downtown Taipei on Saturday to demonstrate against those policies. Wearing red and green armbands emblazoned with the Chinese character for "anger," the demonstrators snaked their way through the streets of the capital before gathering in front of the presidential office building under a light drizzle.