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Taiwan election sees China-friendly presidency continue

Taiwan election: President Ma Ying-jeou won re-election in the tight race.  Ma is expected to continue his China-friendly policies that have Beijing and Washington smiling, but some in Taiwan getting increasingly concerned about Taiwan's de facto independence.

By CHRISTOPHER BODEENAssociated Press / January 14, 2012

Taiwan election: Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou declares victory in the presidential election, Saturday, in Taipei, Taiwan. Ma won a close re-election fight, leveraging his message of greater prosperity through expanded ties with China to beat his populist-minded opponent, Tsai Ing-wen.

Wally Santana/AP

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Taiwan's president won re-election Saturday, paving the way for a continuation of the China-friendly policies that have delighted Beijing and Washington, and caused consternation among some in Taiwan worried about the durability of their de facto independence.

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With about 99 percent of the vote counted, the official Central Election Commission said President Ma Ying-jeou had garnered 51.6 percent of the total against 45.6 percent for Tsai Ing-wen of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party. A third candidate, James Soong, once a heavyweight with Ma's Nationalist Party, had 2.8 percent.

Ma's Nationalist Party also retained control of the 113-seat legislature, though with a reduced majority.

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Speaking before thousands of jubilant supporters in downtown Taipei, Ma said his China policies had resonated with voters.

"They gave us support for our policy to put aside differences with the mainland. To search for peace and turn it into business opportunities," he said.

Since taking office in May 2008, Ma has tied Taiwan ever closer to China, which for the last 60 years has represented a military threat, a political rival and, most recently, a key commercial partner.

The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, and China has never renounced its threat to use military force to bring the democratic island under its control. But over the past several years, and especially since Ma was first elected, tensions have eased considerably amid an upsurge in trade and new transportation and tourist links across the 100-mile-wide (160-kilometer-wide) Taiwan Strait.

Ma's re-election will be seen in Beijing as a big victory for President Hu Jintao, who has moved away from China's previous policy of repeatedly threatening the island with war and instead has tried to woo Taiwanese by showing the economic benefits of closer ties.

Still, Hu has funded a wide-ranging military expansion that has made the use of force a more credible option. A Ma defeat would have strengthened military hard-liners just as Hu is preparing to step down to make way for a younger group of leaders.

There was no immediate reaction from Beijing on the election results.

Ma's victory was welcomed by the United States, Taiwan's most important security partner despite shifting its recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

"We congratulate Ma Ying-jeou on his re-election and the people of Taiwan on the successful conduct of their presidential and legislative elections," the White House said in a statement.

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