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Taiwan's Tsai takes office as hostile Beijing looks on

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Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen takes the reins as president Friday in a grand ceremony celebrating the island's unique identity, likely to raise hackles in Beijing as ties with China rapidly cool.

[TAIPEI] Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen takes the reins as president on Friday in a grand ceremony celebrating the island's unique identity, likely to raise hackles in Beijing as ties with China rapidly cool.

Ms Tsai becomes Taiwan'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 Ma had moved too close to China, which still sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

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

Around 30,000 people will gather at Taipei's presidential palace for Ms Tsai's swearing in and inauguration speech Friday morning.

The Taiwan-centric celebrations will include 1,000 performers in a showcase of the island's history and culture, entitled "Pride of Taiwan".

Mock protesters will appear alongside singers in a "March of Taiwan Democracy" segment, billed as a performance to remind the new government to listen to the public.

Choirs will also perform "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.

But the element of proceedings most closely watched - particularly by Beijing - will be Ms Tsai's 30-minute inauguration speech.

Beijing wants Ms Tsai to publicly acknowledge its message that there is only "one China", a concept enshrined in a tacit agreement with the KMT known as the "1992 consensus".

Recognition of that agreement formed the bedrock of the thaw under Mr Ma, but Ms Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party have never backed it.

Ms Tsai has pledged to maintain the "status quo" with Beijing, but observers say she is highly unlikely to show any sign of compromise on the "one China" issue during her speech.

"Tsai has said repeatedly cross-strait ties will be based on democratic principle and Taiwan's public opinion, so it would be difficult for her to say the things China wants to hear," said Lai I-chung, deputy director of Taiwan Thinktank and a former director of the DPP's China affairs division.

"In the past China represented opportunities but now it represents risks." Voters will instead want to hear how Tsai proposes to revive Taiwan's flagging economy and be reassured the island's sovereignty will remain secure.

The vast majority of Taiwanese want peaceful relations with China, but not at the expense of their cherished democratic culture.

"She can negotiate with China as long as Taiwan's sovereignty is upheld," 19-year-old college student Hu Hsiu-chi told AFP.

"To me Taiwan is an independent country."

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.

Chinese pressure tactics in recent months have included the deportation of Taiwanese fraud suspects to the mainland from Kenya and Malaysia, infuriating Taipei.

AFP