05/20/2008, 00.00
TAIWAN
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Ma Ying-jeou takes office, mainland and economy to top his agenda

KMT leader was sworn in today pledging to uphold the constitution, stating his willingness to improve ties with Beijing which should take advantage of this opportunity to bring peace to the strait. Optimism prevails at the economic and international levels.

Taipei (AsiaNews) – Two months after sweeping to victory, Ma Ying-jeou has taken the oath of office as Taiwan's new president. In his inaugural speech he pledged to improve ties with the mainland, at least at the economic level, and strengthen the island’s international position without straining relations with Beijing or Washington.

Mr Ma, the 57-year-old former mayor of Taipei, succeeds pro-independence Chen Shui-bian, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). His victory returns the mainland-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party to power after eight years in the opposition and shows that people have renewed their trust in a party that ran the country as a dictatorship in the first decades of the country’s post-war history.

“I vow to the people of the country that I will abide by the constitution to devote myself in serving the country,” Mr Ma said before a gathering of foreign diplomats, political leaders, business leaders and journalists. “Seeking cross-strait peace and maintaining regional stability is our goal and Taiwan still strives to become a peacemaker in the world,’ he said. “I sincerely hope the two sides (Beijing and Taipei) can make the best use of this historic chance to create a new chapter of peace and prosperity.”

Throughout the presidential campaign, Mr Ma had vowed to seek cross-strait economic prosperity, a pledged he renewed in the two-month transition period.

His KMT party also reiterated its intention of reinvigorating economic ties with mainland and has proposed normal air links.

As a sign of its good will, a KMT chairman, Wu Baoxing, will officially travel for the first time to the mainland on the last week of May. Taiwan will also send its own rescue teams to quake-devastated Sichuan province.

One immediate beneficiary of the change was Taipei’s Stock exchange which shot up ten points after four lean years. Investors are thus showing that they trust the new leadership and that the island’s business community is planning to invest again in the mainland. At present various banks are already offering their customers packages to invest later in the southern mainland province of Guangdong.

The wind of optimism has also swept Shanghai where the composite investment index jumped by 27 per cent despite the recession in Japan, South Korea and India.

A Taiwanese trade ministry official said that the new cabinet will focus on the economy and that this is the way to bypass Chinese hostility.

Many international institutions seem to agree. Despite years of rejection there is hope that Taiwan will have better luck next year in its application to the World Health Organisation, said an official of the organisation in what amounts to an implicit promise.

However the next four years are still full of uncertainties. In its editorial page the South China Morning Post noted that Mr Ma won the presidency by a small margin (less than 5 per cent) and that the DPP has pledged a strong opposition.

Conversely, the new prime minister, Liu Chao-shiuan vowed to work for the good of the country saying that anyone be obstructive would be discredited in the eyes of the population.

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