Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party has picked a former teacher and current deputy legislative speaker to run in next year's presidential election. She will face off against another female candidate in a historic first.

Taiwan, democratic since the late 1980s, has never elected a woman president nor had a choice between two female candidates backed by the major parties.

The Nationalists on Sunday picked Hung Hsiu-chu. She will run against Tsai Ing-wen, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman and an advocate of a more cautious attitude to Taiwan's rival, China. Tsai leads in polls ahead of the January 2016 election.

Ties with Beijing have shaped up as an early campaign issue.

Beijing claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan and insists that the two sides eventually reunite.