TAIPEI, Taiwan – A proponent of improved ties with China took office as Taiwan's president Tuesday, calling on the larger rival to open a new page in their long-strained relationship while rejecting any move to seek unification with the mainland.
The inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou, 57, represents a clear break from the eight-year presidency of Chen Shui-bian, whose confrontational pro-independence policies often led to friction with Beijing — and with the United States, Taiwan's most important foreign partner.
Addressing political leaders and representatives from Taiwan's dwindling cadre of diplomatic allies, he exhorted Beijing to seize the chance created by his election victory in March to build a better future for people on both sides of the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.
"(I) hope that the two sides can use this rare historical opportunity," he said. "Let's open a new page of peace and prosperity."
Ma's comments in his inaugural address were consistent with his long-standing policies of seeking greater economic engagement with Beijing, without renouncing Taiwan's de facto sovereignty.
But he made it clear that while he renounces the platform of formal independence espoused by Chen, he is also opposed to unification with the mainland, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.
"We will adopt the principle of no independence, no unification, and no use of force," he said.
Fifty-nine years after their split, China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and has repeatedly threatened to attack if the island makes its de facto independence permanent.
Ma's election victory was fashioned on his pledges to tie Taiwan's powerful but laggard high-tech economy closely to China's white hot economic boom.
In recent weeks however, he has made it clear that he has no intention of giving up on Taiwan's sovereignty — the core goal of China's policy toward the island for nearly six decades.
In an interview last week with The Associated Press, he said it was highly unlikely that unification talks would be held "within our lifetimes."
In a break with his party's old guard, the Ma has vowed not to negotiate with Beijing about unification during his term of office, which can stretch to 2016, assuming he is re-elected to a second four-year term.
And in late April he named a strong supporter of Taiwanese sovereignty to oversee relations with China, in a move that elicited silence from the mainland and anger from China-friendly hard-liners in his own Nationalist Party.