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Taiwan's Tsai says democratic principles will rule ties with China

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said she will maintain the status quo in the island’s relationship with China, but that her policy will be based on democratic principles and transcend party politics, a nuance likely to be lost on Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou (R) shakes hands with President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (L) after discussing the transfer of power in a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan March 30, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

China regards self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province to be taken back by force if necessary and wants the new government to stick to the “one China” policy agreed upon with the outgoing China-friendly Nationalist government.

Beijing distrusts Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which it believes supports formal independence for Taiwan.

“Only in this way, can the cross-Strait relationship last and give ‘maintaining the status quo’ real meaning,” Tsai, referring to the body of water separating the two sides, said in a speech.

“In these 10 years or so, the rise of China’s economy and its increasing overall influence has changed the structure of the cross-Strait relationship,” Tsai said. “It has also resulted in far-reaching impact in all aspects of interaction.”

Her comments come less than a month before she takes power amid keen interest in what she will say during her inauguration speech on May 20.

Tsai has always said she will maintain the status quo but has not elaborated on how she will engage Beijing beyond broad principles.

Tsai and her independence-leaning DPP were voted into power in January on growing concern, particularly among younger citizens, that the island was not benefiting from its economic ties with China.

China has been stepping up pressure on Taiwan. In the past few weeks, China has established ties with former Taiwan ally Gambia, sent a top general to inspect troops based in a frontline province and scooped up dozens of Taiwanese from Kenya wanted in China for fraud - a move denounced by Taipei as being more about politics than crime.

Only 22 countries recognise Taiwan as the “Republic of China”, with most having diplomatic relations with the “People’s Republic of China”, with its leaders in Beijing.

Ties warmed considerably when Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalists was elected Taiwan president in 2008, ushering in regular high-level exchanges and overseeing the signing of a series of landmark economic deals.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island.

Tsai reiterated that the new government would maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and forge a consistent, predictable and sustainable relationship with China.

“I will abide by the commitment,” Tsai said.

Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Nick Macfie