The former mayor of Taipei proposes signing a peace treaty and trade pact with China, moves Hsieh's Democratic People’s Party (DPP) says will lead to only to domination from Beijing.

 

Ma, from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, has brushed aside the criticisms.

 

"To draw an analogy between Taiwan and Tibet is an incorrect one," he said on Monday. "Tibet is under mainland China rule, and Taiwan is not."

 

On Monday night Hsieh, aware of the potential political capital available from the unrest in Tibet, attended a candle-light vigil in Taipei for Tibetans killed in the Chinese crackdown in the Himalayan region.

 

DPP candidate Frank Hsieh joined a vigil
for Tibetans in Taipei [A
FP]

The group chanted slogans while walking in a circle around candles spelling out the words "Free Tibet."

 

Ma, who himself sent a representative to the same event, has been careful not to be seen siding with China on the Tibetan crackdown.

 

"I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities," he said.

 

Relations between Taipei and the Tibetan government-in-exile have become closer since the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, visited Taiwan in 1997.

 

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949 following a bloody civil war, and has threatened to use of force if the self-governing island declares independence.

 

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Beijing has frequently banded together what it calls "splittist" elements in Taiwan and Tibet, which it says are working to break up China.

 

It is difficult to assess how the Tibet unrest may sway voters, as no new opinion polls are allowed before voting day.

 

The last poll, conducted a week ago, put Ma some 20 points ahead of Hsieh.

 

Taiwan's feisty and uncensored media has given wide coverage to the violence on the streets of Lhasa, although views differ as to what extent the violence will swing  Taiwan’s polls.

 

"Tibet is having an effect on the election," Lin Chong-pin, president of the Taipei-based Foundation on International and Cross-strait Studies, told Reuters.

 

But he added the China's approach towards unrest in Tibet was unlikely to be mirrored in its handling of relations with Taiwan "since China is very set on using a softer approach".

 

Shieh Jhy-wey, head of Taiwan’s Government Information Office, said that when compared to compared to Beijing's heavy-handed stance in Tibet, world opinion would look favourably on Taiwan’s democratic electoral process.

 

"We are choosing our own president," he said.