Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has resigned as chairman of the Beijing-friendly ruling Nationalist Party after surprisingly harsh local election losses.

Wednesday's move was a signal the Nationalists plan to regroup for a tough 2016 presidential race and may shelve dialogue with China. Concerns over increasingly close trade links with Beijing were considered a significant factor in the party's defeat.

Ma tendered his resignation at a meeting of the party's Central Standing Committee, which was expected to pick Taiwan Vice President Wu Den-yih as interim chair.

Ma will remain Taiwan's president until 2016, when he must leave office after eight years due to term limits.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing is determined to assert control over the island by force if need be.