TAIPEI, Taiwan — A proponent of improved ties with China took office as Taiwan's president Tuesday, immediately promising to pursue peace with the larger rival and work for regional stability.
The inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou, 57, Ma represents a clear break from 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.
Ma _ elected on promises to seek greater economic cooperation with China _ said in his inagural address that Taiwan "will pursue cross-strait peace and regional stability. ...It is our consistent goal."
Vice president Vincent Siew, 69, was sworn in shortly after Ma, together with Premier Liu Chao-shiuan and his Cabinet.
In contrast to the independence bent of Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, Ma's Nationalists have never formally renounced a desire for eventual unification with China, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.
Fifty-nine years after their split, China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and has repeatedly threatened to attack if the island makes its de facto independence permanent.
In a break with his party's 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.
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 100-mile-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.
One of Ma's major considerations appears to be the widespread Taiwanese bias in favor of more commercial deals with China, as long as they don't pave the way for formal political union.
While Beijing has abandoned communism in all but name, it remains an authoritarian state, whose lack of political freedoms trouble Taiwanese, now well into their second decade of a freewheeling democracy.
Ma is by no means a charismatic figure; he calms rather than inspires. But he is widely known as honest and thoughtful.
Ma is a former mayor of Taipei and chairman of the Nationalist Party, and his father also was a Nationalist Party official. He studied law in Taiwan and later in the United States, receiving a degree from Harvard Law School in 1981.
Ma's deliberateness is reflected in his handling of the delicate relationship with China.
Underscoring his go-slow approach, he appointed former Chen ally Lai Hsin-yuan to the key position of China affairs coordinator, saying he wanted to achieve the widest possible consensus in managing Taiwan's relationship with Beijing.
Political scientist Chao Chun-shan, of Tamkang University, said as pragmatic leaders, Ma and Chinese President Hu Jintao may usher in an era of detente.
"We cannot put aside the political disputes for good, but this is not the time to resolve them yet," Chao said. "The priority is to stabilize relations."