Taipei (AsiaNews/SCMP) Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday congratulated Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou on his election as chairman of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party. Mr Ma, 55, got 72.4 per cent of the vote, defeating his 64-year-old opponent Wang Jin-pyng, the current Speaker of Legislative Yuan.
Mr Hu, who is also chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said that he was looking forward to work with the KMT to promote cross-strait ties.
"I sincerely hope that our two parties (KMT and CCP) can work together to continue to promote the peaceful and steady development of cross-strait relations, and make efforts for the bright future of the Chinese nation," he said.
Taiwanese media said Mr Hu's statement came a day late and speculated that this reflected the mainland's doubts about Mr Ma, a candidate it did not favour.
But KMT spokesman Chang Yung-kung dismissed this suggestion, saying even if the mainland had had doubts about Mr Ma's cross-strait policy, the congratulatory message meant Beijing no longer believed it mattered.
Mr Ma formally becomes chairman when Lien Chan steps down next month.
He said he would be busy building on Mr Lien's peace initiative with Beijing, which resulted from his landmark visit to the mainland on April 29, a first for a KMT leader in mainland China.
For many political analysts, Lien's trip was an attempt to weaken the Democratic Progressive Party of current Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. It was also an attempt to turn the Taiwan issue into a domestic one, to be handled by political parties rather by governments.
Mr Ma said that he did not exclude making a formal visit to the People's Republic of China.
He also said that he would do his utmost to seek Mr Wang's cooperation, whom the called an "outstanding statesman who cared about the party".
"I will extend my utmost sincerity to settle the so-called 'Wang-Ma grudges' and to win his co-operation to run the party," he stressed.
For his part, Mr Wang, already feeling wronged by vote-buying allegations levelled by Mr Ma's camp, embarrassed the mayor by ignoring him.
"I will follow the footsteps of [outgoing] KMT chairman Lien Chan to serve as a lifetime volunteer worker for the party," Mr Wang said.
Reconciliation between Mr Ma and Mr Wang, who has strong links with political factions across the island, is a must if the KMT chairman-elect hopes to keep the party intact ahead of the 2008 presidential elections.
Without the support of Mr Wang's wing of the party, Mr Ma might lose the support of the so-called pan-Blue camp, which includes two other smaller, pro-unification partiesthe People First Party and New Partywhich backed Mr Wang.