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Incoming president of Taiwan doubts China unification
Taiwan New Presiden 5217936
Taiwan's President-elect Ma Ying-jeou speaks during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press at the Nationalist Party headquarters, Thursday, May 15, 2008, in Taipei, Taiwan. Ma said that unification with longtime rival China is unlikely to happen "in our lifetimes." Ma begins his term as president on Tuesday, May 20, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s president-elect said Thursday that unification with China is unlikely ‘‘in our lifetimes,’’ but pledged to reach out to the longtime rival while maintaining good relations with the United States.
    In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Ma Ying-jeou offered detailed insight into his thinking on Taiwan’s relations with its two most important foreign partners just five days before he takes office.
    The strategic triangle between Taipei, Beijing and Washington is the fundamental mechanism for keeping the peace in the volatile western Pacific — a peace that China has threatened to break if democratic Taiwan moves to makes its de facto independence permanent.
    That would likely draw in the United States, which remains Taiwan’s principal strategic partner even though it switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
    Ma made it clear that he has no intention of following the pro-independence path of outgoing President Chen Shui-bian, who leaves office Tuesday after eight tumultuous years.
    ‘‘I will never pursue a policy of de jure independence for Taiwan,’’ Ma said.
    But the 57-year-old Harvard graduate also said political union with the authoritarian mainland was not an option — not only during his presidency, but probably for longer.
    ‘‘It is very difficult for us to see any kind of unification talks even in our lifetimes,’’ Ma said. ‘‘Taiwanese people would like to have economic interactions with the mainland, but obviously they don’t believe their political system is suitable for Taiwan.’’
    Unification has been the fundamental goal of China’s Taiwan policy since the two sides split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to view the island as part of its territory. It reviled Chen for his pro-independence bent, and has often signaled that it expects a less confrontational, more China-friendly attitude from Ma.
    Ma said he was would be willing to provide it — up to a point.
    ‘‘After eight years of delay or mismanagement or whatever, Taiwan has to go back to the right course by extending itself to the rest of the world, particularly the Chinese mainland,’’ he said. ‘‘What we should do is maximize the opportunity ... and I think that can be done.’’
    In his comments, Ma reaffirmed his long-standing promise to push for direct flights across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait and accelerate the already substantial economic links between Taiwan and the mainland.
    He also repeated his support for a peace treaty between the two sides, though he did not provide specifics beyond stressing the need to work to prevent accidental hostilities.
    Despite his emphasis on China, Ma said he is committed to maintaining Taiwan’s crucial partnership with the U.S., which spans almost six decades.
    While some American analysts have cautioned that improved ties between Beijing and Taipei could undermine Washington’s standing in the region, Ma denied that this would happen during his presidency.
    Pursuing better relations with China ‘‘doesn’t mean we will forget about our old friend the United States because our security still depends on the U.S. guarantee,’’ he said. ‘‘What we should do is we will continue to keep the security relationship with the United States.’’
    Twenty-nine years after the diplomatic break between Taipei and Washington, the United States continues to supply the Taiwanese military with the bulk of its weapons.
    Despite America’s rapidly expanding economic relationship with Beijing, support for Taiwan is widespread in Congress and in some sections of the Pentagon. Before it began to lose patience with Chen’s pro-independence policies in 2006, the Bush administration even hinted it would come to Taiwan’s aid if China attacked.
    Ma said that for the U.S. security relationship to work, a major effort would be needed to restore trust between Washington and Taipei because of the substantial dislocations of the Chen years.
    ‘‘We want to rebuild mutual confidence between the United States, which has been badly damaged as a result of what I called ’diplomatic adventurism’ on the part of the current administration,’’ he said.
    ‘‘Taiwan in the future will be a responsible stakeholder, meaning a peacemaker instead of a troublemaker.’’

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