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Taiwan inaugurates new president

A soft-spoken Harvard graduate who has promised to seek greater economic cooperation with rival China and end nearly six decades of tensions took his oath as Taiwan's president on Tuesday.

world Updated: May 20, 2008 12:01 IST

A soft-spoken Harvard graduate who has promised to seek greater economic cooperation with rival China and end nearly six decades of tensions took his oath as Taiwan's president on Tuesday.

The inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou, 57, formally turns the corner on 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.

Vice president Vincent Siew, 69, was sworn in shortly after Ma Chen was in attendence for the swearing-in ceremonies at the ornate presidential office building in downtown Taipei.

In contrast to the independence bent of Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, Ma's Nationalist Party has never formally renounced a desire for eventual unification with China, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

But in a break with the Nationalist old guard, the 57-year-old 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 last week in an interview with The Associated Press, Ma raised the bar even higher, saying it was highly unlikely that unification talks would be held "within our lifetimes."

Rather than politics, Ma's major emphasis has been seeking to tie Taiwan's powerful but laggard high-tech economy more closely to China's white-hot economic boom.

He has proposed beginning direct commercial flights across the 160-kilometer-wide Taiwan Strait and opening Taiwan's doors to a massive influx of Chinese tourists.

He has also promised to work toward a peace treaty with Beijing, but has kept its prospective contents close to his vest.