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Taiwan's Tsai calls for 'positive dialogue' with Beijing

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Taiwan's new president Tsai Ing-wen called for "positive dialogue" with China in her much-anticipated inauguration speech Friday, striking a conciliatory tone in the face of an increasingly hostile Beijing.

[TAIPEI] Taiwan's new president Tsai Ing-wen called for "positive dialogue" with China in her much-anticipated inauguration speech Friday, striking a conciliatory tone in the face of an increasingly hostile Beijing.

Ms Tsai took office as the island's first female president after winning a landslide victory in January to defeat the ruling Kuomintang, ending an eight-year rapprochement with Beijing under outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou.

Voters felt Mr Ma had moved too close to China, which still sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

Beijing-sceptic Ms Tsai swept in with a campaign to restore Taiwanese pride, a message that resonated with a public tired of living in China's shadow.

However she sought to cast Taiwan as a force for peace in front of a cheering crowd of 20,000 at the presidential palace in Taipei, where she was sworn in earlier Friday.

"The two governing parties across the strait must set aside the baggage of history, and engage in positive dialogue, for the benefit of the people on both sides," she said.

Relations with Beijing have already cooled since she won the presidency with China putting growing pressure on Ms Tsai to back its "one China" message - the bedrock of the thaw under outgoing leader Ma Ying-jeou.

Ms Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party have never recognised the concept.

While she showed no sign of backing down from that stance in her speech, Ms Tsai emphasised the importance of cross-strait communication.

"Cross-strait relations have become an integral part of building regional peace and collective security," she said.

"In this process, Taiwan will be a 'staunch guardian of peace' that actively participates and is never absent."

However, she still emphasised the need for Taiwan to diversify the economy and end its over-reliance on the mainland for trade.

She also expressed the island's commitment to its vibrant democratic culture.

"We, as a free and democratic people, are committed to the defence of our freedom and democracy as a way of life...My dear fellow Taiwanese, we did it," she said.

Official mainland Chinese news outlets snubbed the inauguration, while searches for Ms Tsai's name and "Taiwan" were blocked on social media.

In an editorial, the Global Times - a newspaper owned by the People's Daily group that often takes a nationalistic tone - said Ms Tsai's assumption of power heralded "a new era for a cross-Straits region that is characterised by uncertainty".

In celebrations likely to have irked Beijing, the "Pride of Taiwan" inauguration pageant revolved around Taiwan's unique culture and history, including dances and songs by indigenous groups.

Mock protesters with pro-democracy placards were part of the performances, which culminated with the song "Ilha Formosa" - a poetic tribute to Taiwan banned in 1979, when the KMT ruled under martial law, because it had been adopted as an anthem by opposition groups.

Jubilant crowds waved flags and danced in celebration.

"Ms Tsai Ing-wen is the first woman president in Taiwan's history so I want to witness this sacred moment," said teacher Chen Su-mei, 48.

"I hope she will bring more stability to Taiwan and revive our economy. We have high hopes for her." Others praised her for the conciliatory speech.

"I was touched by the part where she said both sides across the strait should work for the wellbeing of their people. I believe she can do it," said Mahdi Lin, 40.

Ms Tsai has consistently pledged to maintain the status quo but critics have pushed her to explain further how she can achieve that without compromise over the "one China" sticking point.

The concept is enshrined in a tacit agreement with the KMT known as the "1992 consensus".

In her speech Friday Ms Tsai reiterated her previous stance of acknowledging that the 1992 meeting had happened, but without endorsing the "one China" principle.

Taiwan split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war but has never declared a breakaway.

Beijing has warned Ms Tsai against any move towards formal independence - the DPP is traditionally a pro-independence party.

AFP