Taipei, Taiwan — Taiwan's opposition candidate won the presidential election Saturday, a victory many hope will defuse tension with China over the neighboring island's aspirations for independence.
Taiwan's Central Election Commission also said two referendums calling on the government to work for the island's entry into the United Nations failed. China had warned that the referendums threatened stability in the region.
Confetti snowed down on giddy followers at Ma Ying-jeou's headquarters and fireworks exploded in the sky, celebrating his victory over Frank Hsieh, a former premier whose party supports Taiwan's independence.
Ma's win returns the presidency to the Nationalist Party, which ruled Taiwan for five decades before suffering defeats in the past two elections.
Ma should be relatively palatable to Beijing because the Nationalists ostensibly favor unification with China. Taiwan and China have been ruled separately since the Communist Party took over the mainland in 1949.
Ma, 57, promised voters he will try to negotiate a peace treaty with Beijing and deepen Taiwan's already robust economic relationship with the mainland. But he pledged that he wouldn't negotiate unification with Beijing because the vast majority of Taiwanese didn't want to become part of the communist mainland.
"I will make it crystal clear that Taiwan will be a stakeholder and will not rock the boat in the region. By stakeholder, I mean peacemaker," he said.
For the past eight years, Chinese leaders have refused to talk to President Chen Shui-bian. Beijing distrusted the independence-leaning Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party because he rejected unification.
China has repeatedly said the island must eventually unify or endure a punishing war. A conflict could quickly involve the U.S., which has long sent strong hints that it may defend the island of 23 million people if the Chinese attack.