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Taiwan's Ma: No plans to visit China

  • Story Highlights
  • A sitting Taiwan president hasn't set foot on the mainland since 1949 split
  • The island still maintains a ban on direct shipping and air links across the Strait
  • Ma won 58 percent of the vote
  • Ma succeeds Chen, who steps down after eight years in power
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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Taiwan's president-elect said Sunday he had no immediate plans to visit China and would work to fulfill his campaign pledge to improve relations with the communist neighbor, starting direct flights, allowing more Chinese tourists to visit and helping the island's financial industry go to the mainland.

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Taiwan's president-elect Ma Ying-jeou and his wife celebrate his victory in Taipei on Saturday.

Ma Ying-jeou, a former Taipei mayor, trounced his ruling party rival, Frank Hsieh, in Saturday's vote after a long campaign that focused on relations with China. Ma was widely viewed to be favored by Beijing, which insists this self-ruled island of 23 million people is part of the mainland.

A sitting Taiwanese president hasn't set foot on the mainland since a bloody civil war split the two sides in 1949. Ma told reporters on Sunday that he had no plans to visit China in the near future.

"I think the most urgent job for us to do is to solve many of the urgent problems in terms of our relations with mainland China," said Ma of the Nationalist Party. "For instance, direct flights, to allow mainland tourists to come to Taiwan, to allow our financial services industry to go to the mainland."

Although thousands of Taiwanese companies have invested in China in recent years, the island still maintains a ban on direct shipping and air links across the 100-mile (160-kilometer-wide) Taiwan Strait. The government has also been cautious about relaxing restrictions on sensitive or strategic industries -- like finance and technology -- that want a bigger piece of China's booming market.

The main worry is that Taiwan would become too vulnerable or dependent on China, which still threatens to use its massive military to unify the two sides.

Ma, who won 58 percent of the vote, endured an often nasty campaign by Hsieh, a former premier who got 41 percent of the ballots. Hsieh tried to paint Ma as a softy who would quickly cave in to China and sell out Taiwan's interests. Video Watch what Ma's win means for Taiwan-China relations »

The 57-year-old Ma has proposed a common economic market with China, and Hsieh told voters the policy would trigger an invasion of cheap Chinese laborers who would steal away Taiwanese jobs.

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But Ma -- who led the opinion polls for most of the campaign -- was supported by voters who lost faith in President Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party. Chen's eight years in power were marred by corruption scandals, legislative gridlock, economic woes and tensions with China. The law requires Chen to step down after serving two four-year terms.

U.S. President George W. Bush said Saturday Ma's victory offers Taiwan and China a fresh chance to settle their differences peacefully. He urged the two sides to pursue "dialogue through all available means." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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