July 19, 2015 / 8:19 AM / in 2 years

Taiwan's ruling Nationalists pick pro-China Hung as presidential candidate

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's ruling Nationalists on Sunday nominated pro-China Hung Hsiu-chu as its candidate for presidential elections in January 2016, ending months of division in the party following heavy losses at local elections.

More than 1,000 members of the party, also known as Kuomintang (KMT), cheered and clapped at a party congress to show support for the deputy legislative speaker Hung, a nomination which will be welcomed in Beijing.

"Only if the KMT wins can the values of peace and openness be assured in the future," Hung, 67, told a cheering party.

"If I win...I will promote peace development across the Taiwan Strait and let people enjoy the benefits," she added.

Hung's unopposed nomination indicated the pro-China KMT had united after its local election defeat last November, said analysts.

"Her nomination indicates the unity of the KMT, closing the gap between her and the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party)rival," said Lo Chih-cheng, chief of political science department at Soochow University, Taipei. "Hung embraces the "one China" policy and Beijing welcomes such a position."

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to the island.

Both sides remain political foes even though trade ties between the two sides have improved to their best level in six decades since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008.

Beijing will closely watch the presidential vote, which will see Hung campaign against Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning opposition DPP.

Hung had advocated unification with China but was recently stopped by senior party members, as the majority of Taiwanese prefer the status quo. Hung is expected to maintain KMT's China policy which favors trade with the mainland.

"Hung does not seek independence from China and hopes to sign a peace treaty with the mainland," said Yu Tzu-hsiang, her spokesman.

Thousands of young people occupied Taiwan's parliament in March 2014 in an unprecedented protest against a planned trade pact calling for closer ties with Beijing.

The race between Hung and Tsai remains tough.

"Beijing is taking a cautious attitude. It has not launched personal attack on Tsai nor criticized her position," said Soochow University's Lo. "Beijing is leaving room to deal with Taiwan's future leader. Anything it does now would run the risk of upsetting Taiwanese people

Editing by Michael Perry

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