China urges Taiwan to keep ties after poll loss

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China urges Taiwan to keep ties after poll loss
Taipei's new mayor-elect Ko Wen-je, center, raises his arms with family and friends to cheer with supporters at his campaign headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party lost eight city and county elections Saturday, according to a preliminary vote count, a stronger than expected jolt for the president who has staked his reputation on stronger ties with old foe Beijing despite increasing contempt at home. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Taipei's new mayor-elect Ko Wen-je, center, waves to supporters at his campaign headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party lost eight city and county elections Saturday, according to a preliminary vote count, a stronger than expected jolt for the president who has staked his reputation on stronger ties with old foe Beijing despite increasing contempt at home. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou casts his votes in the local elections including Taipei mayor in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. Taiwan's relations with historic foe China are playing a key role in local elections on the self-ruled island Saturday as the ruling Nationalist Party meets increased resistance to forging stronger ties with Beijing. (AP Photo/Central News Agency, Pool)
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou ( 2nd R) leaves a polling station after voting in Taipei on November 29, 2014. Millions of voters go to the polls in Taiwan for the island's largest ever local elections, with the Beijing-friendly ruling party facing a rout in a key test ahead of the presidential race. AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah bows as he steps down after his ruling Nationalist Party was heavily defeated in local island-wide elections, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, at the Executive Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party suffered stiff defeats in municipal elections Saturday, dealing a stronger-than-expected blow to a president who has staked his reputation on stronger ties with Beijing. (AP Photo) TAIWAN OUT
Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah announces he will step down after his ruling Nationalist Party was heavily defeated in local island-wide elections, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, at the Executive Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party suffered stiff defeats in municipal elections Saturday, dealing a stronger-than-expected blow to a president who has staked his reputation on stronger ties with Beijing. (AP Photo) TAIWAN OUT
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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - China urged Taiwan to protect the gains of landmark cooperation between the mainland and the self-ruled island after Taiwan's pro-Beijing ruling party was routed in local elections.

The defeat in Saturday's elections of the Nationalist Party, which lost nine cities and counties, including its longtime strongholds Taipei, the capital, and the major central city of Taichung, led to the resignation of Premier Jiang Yi-huah, who heads the Cabinet. President Ma Ying-jeou promised to make changes.

The election losses could jeopardize six years of talks with China that have led to 21 agreements, helping to lift Taiwan's half-trillion-dollar economy, while raising Beijing's hopes for political reunification. Beijing has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, but since taking office in 2008, Ma has set aside the old disputes to ease tensions through talks.

A top Chinese official on Saturday night urged people in Taiwan to protect those gains.

"We hope compatriots across the Strait will cherish hard-won fruits of cross-strait relations, and jointly safeguard and continue to push forward peaceful development of cross-strait relations," said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office.

Taiwanese have been watching closely as Beijing takes a hard-line stance on demands for democratic rule in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city that has been gripped by more two months of pro-democracy protests.

The heavy losses will make it tougher for Ma's Nationalists to hold onto the presidency in 2016.

"I must express apologies to the Nationalist Party and its supporters for making everyone disappointed," Ma told a news conference. "I've received the message people have sent via these elections. It's my responsibility and I will quickly offer a party reform plan to address everyone's demands. I won't avoid responsibility."

The chief opposition Democratic Progressive Party picked up seven offices in Saturday's elections. It favors continuing talks with China's Communist leadership, but disputes the dialogue framework that binds the two sides under Beijing's jurisdiction, instead preferring talks in an international setting.

"We want to send the Nationalists a warning," said Lin Wen-chih, a 48-year-old film producer who voted for the winning independent Taipei mayoral candidate, Ko Wen-je. "Taiwan is an independent country. We don't want the Nationalists to take measures that would have it eaten up (by China)."

A weakened Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang, or KMT, may erode Ma's mandate before 2016 to sign a pact with China to cut import tariffs, set up official representative offices on both sides and push for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. If the opposition party wins the presidency, Beijing is likely to suspend deals with Taiwan.

In March, Ma's government faced thousands of student-led protesters who occupied parliament and nearby streets in Taipei to stop ratification of a service trade liberalization agreement with China.

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