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Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party's (KMT) presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, has won more than half the vote in Saturday's election, the party said, auguring improved ties with diplomatic rival China.
Ma had won more than 7 million votes, the party said, more than half the total 13 million people who cast their ballot.
The Central Election Commission said that Ma had 58 per cent of the vote, while the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's candidate Frank Hsieh had 42 per cent, with counting still continuing.
Ma favours closer economic ties and political dialogue with China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
Voters had to choose a successor to President Chen Shui-bian, an anti-China firebrand who steps down in May and who has repeatedly angered Beijing with his pro-independence rhetoric.
China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan as its territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
Hsieh's DPP favours formal independence while Ma's Nationalist Party (KMT) wants eventual reunification once China embraces democracy.
"Whether you vote for Hsieh or for Ma, be sure to vote for Taiwan," Chen told reporters. "...Don't let Taiwan become the next Hong Kong. Don't let Taiwan become the next Tibet."
The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Chinese troops marched into Tibet, the scene of anti-Chinese rioting last week, in 1950.
Ma told reporters after voting his commitment to Taiwan was not in doubt.
"I have always said that if I get elected I will engage with mainland China on many issues, that I will protect Taiwan, not just its identity but its security, to my fullest strength," he said in fluent English.
"I have said also many times that Taiwan is not Tibet. Neither is it Hong Kong. So we will keep this democratic country running as it is."
The election has drawn keen international attention, with the United States, Russia and Britain criticising a referendum on UN membership, to be held alongside the vote, which they believe could upset the delicate balance with China.
Malaysia added its voice of opposition on Saturday, with its Foreign Ministry saying the referendum as "a provocative move".
Whatever the referendum result, UN membership is out of the question with just 23 countries recognising Taiwan, and with China a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, recognising "one China", but remains the island's biggest ally.
Two US aircraft carriers are in the region for training exercises. China fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in 1996, trying to intimidate voters during an election.
"China hopes the United States and Japan will carry out their promises of not supporting 'Taiwan independence' or Taiwan authority's proposed 'referendum on UN membership'," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said.
In Taiwan, a faltering economy is a priority with voters.
"Domestic issues, such as the economy and corruption, are bigger than China or foreign policy," said Ralph Cossa, president of the U.S.-based think tank Pacific Forum CSIS.
The two candidates had toughened their stances on China following Beijing's crackdown in Tibet, but to help the economy, both advocate more direct flights, tourism and investment opportunities between Taiwan and China.
Ma advocates a common market with China. (Reuters)
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