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Beijing, US greet Ma win with sigh of relief

Monday, January 16, 2012

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's reelection is a relief for China and the United States, but observers say he may face a tough second term, forced to balance demands from Beijing with fears he is selling out the island.

Beijing-friendly Ma's surprisingly comfortable victory over his China- skeptic challenger was greeted with expressions of hope that positive momentum in the island's ties with the mainland can be maintained.

China's state media said the 61-year- old Ma's win "may open new chances for the peaceful development" of relations, while the White House called on both sides to continue their "impressive efforts" to build ties.

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Ma's outreach to Beijing over the past four years has made the strategically vital Taiwan Strait area, which sits astride some of the world's main shipping lanes, more stable than at any other time in the past six decades.

Challenger Tsai Ing-wen, 55, of the populist Democratic Progressive Party had caused concern by suggesting she may not accept the longstanding formula under which Taiwan agrees - in a vague and non-committal way - to the idea of "one China."

This is the best-case scenario for cross-strait relations, Chu Shulong, an international relations expert at Beijing's Tsinghua University, said of Ma's win on Saturday.

"Ma's victory will ensure that the stability and peaceful development between the two sides in the past four years can continue," Chu said.

During his first term, Hong Kong- born Ma oversaw the most dramatic thaw in mainland ties since Beijing and Taipei split after civil war in 1949, with a sweeping trade pact signed in 2010 considered a crowning achievement.

But outside economic initiatives, Ma has proceeded carefully, constantly reassuring the public his top priority is Taiwan's sovereignty, a cautious approach that was vindicated by his win.

Ma indicated yesterday he is aware that he faces a critical test as he balances warming relations with domestic concerns over the pace of rapprochement.

"In the four years ahead, I'll not have the pressure of seeking reelection, but I'll have the pressure of establishing a historical legacy," he said.

"Therefore I'll do my best to be a model for our country and for history."

In its reaction to the vote, the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing said it is prepared "to join hands with all walks of life on the basis of continuing to oppose `Taiwan independence."'

The next few months could be critical as Beijing undergoes a complex power transition, said Joseph Wu, a political analyst at the National Chengchi University.

"There will be a wave of pressure before President Hu Jintao steps down in October, as Hu seeks to establish his legacy for his accomplishment in cross- strait policies," Wu said.

One the other hand, policymaking in Beijing is becoming more sophisticated, and officials are keenly aware of how a democracy like Taiwan's works.

That means Ma is likely to enjoy some leeway in how fast to move, said John Ciorciari, a Taiwan expert at the University of Michigan.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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