Associated Press
Taiwan's new President Ma Ying-jeou gestures during his inaugural address in Taipei on May 20, 2008. Taiwan's new President Ma Ying-jeou called May 20 in his inauguration address for a resumption of dialogue with China aimed at bolstering ties and ensuring regional peace.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan's new president took office Tuesday and set the tone for his administration's policy on rival China: better economic and political ties but no plans for unification with the mainland.

The inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou, 57, represents a clear break from the eight-year presidency of Chen Shui-bian, whose confrontational pro-independence policies often led to friction with Beijing — and with the United States, Taiwan's most important foreign partner.

Addressing political leaders and representatives from Taiwan's dwindling cadre of diplomatic allies, Ma exhorted Beijing to seize the chance created by his March election victory to build a better future for people on both sides of the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.

"(I) hope that the two sides can use this rare historical opportunity," he said. "Let's open a new page of peace and prosperity."

Ma made it clear that even while he renounces the platform of formal independence espoused by his predecessor, he also opposes unification anytime soon with the mainland, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

"We will adopt the principle of no independence, no unification and no use of force," he said.

China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to attack if the island makes its de facto independence permanent.

Ma's comments in his inaugural address were consistent with his long-standing policies of seeking greater economic engagement with Beijing without renouncing Taiwan's effective sovereignty.

Ma's election victory was fashioned on his pledges to tie Taiwan's powerful but laggard high-tech economy to China's economic boom.

In recent weeks, however, he has made clear he has no intention of giving up on Taiwan's sovereignty — the core goal of China's policy toward the island.

In an interview last week with The Associated Press, he said it was highly unlikely that unification talks would be held "within our lifetimes."

And in late April, he named a strong supporter of Taiwanese sovereignty to oversee relations with China, in a move that elicited silence from the mainland and anger from China-friendly hard-liners in his own Nationalist Party.

Ma seemed to tie negotiations over Taiwan's political status to China adopting the island's democratic political system.

"What matters is not sovereignty, but core values and way of life," he said Tuesday. "We ... hope that mainland China will continue to move toward freedom, democracy and prosperity for all the people."

While Beijing has abandoned communism in all but name, it remains an authoritarian state, whose lack of political freedoms trouble Taiwanese, now well into their second decade of a freewheeling democracy.

Ma also urged Beijing to seek reconciliation with Taiwan in "the international arena" — a clear reference to the often costly competition to win diplomatic recognition from countries around the world.

"In light of our common Chinese heritage, people on both sides should do their utmost to jointly contribute to the international community without engaging in vicious competition and the waste of resources," he said.

Taiwan is recognized by only 23 countries — mostly small and impoverished nations in Latin America, Africa and the South Pacific — while Beijing is recognized by 171, including all the major powers.

Ma said he wants to strengthen ties with the United States, which remains Taiwan's most important foreign partner and its main supplier of weapons 29 years after moving its embassy from Taipei to Beijing.

Relations with the U.S. suffered greatly under Chen, with Washington frequently berating the combative leader for pushing forward with his pro-independence policies.

"We will bolster relations with the U.S., a security and economic partner," said Ma, who received a degree from Harvard Law School in 1981. "We will prepare a reasonable military budget and purchase necessary defensive weapons to build a powerful military."

Yen Chen-sheng, a political analyst with Taipei's Institute for International Relations, said Ma's speech may irritate China because it ruled out early talks on unification.

"Beijing may not be too pleased," he said. "But it may accept (the speech) because Ma did not overstep the bottom line of independence."