Cross-strait relations are likely to remain warn this year, but one keen observer expects less interaction because of pressure from the Taiwanese opposition and the political realities facing the island's president. 'In principle, cross-strait ties will continue to move in a positive direction,' says Professor George Tsai Wei, from the Sun Yat-sen Institute for Globalisation Studies at Chinese Cultural University in Taipei. But he expects that several factors will force the Taiwanese government of Ma Ying-jeou (pictured) to take it slow. Ma's Kuomintang party suffered a setback in local elections on December 5, which opponents put down to public disapproval of his engagement policy. The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won 45.3 per cent of the total vote compared with the KMT's 47.9 per cent in the elections for local mayors and magistrates - largely closing the gap between the two camps. Nevertheless, Ma is expected to push ahead, hoping to sign the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement, a free-trade pact, with the mainland this year. Tsai says Ma will have to focus on getting his message out to the public and work with lawmakers to ensure their backing. But at the same time, dissent from the pro-independence camp, which says the pact could be a step towards reunification with the mainland, is tipped to grow stronger, intensifying the stand-off between Ma and the opposition, he says. If Taiwan is not able to sign the pact with the mainland at the fifth cross-strait summit - to be held in the first half of this year - it is less likely that Ma will want to have the pact signed at the sixth summit - due by the end of the year - given the risk of an opposition backlash that may ruin the KMT's chances in this December's city polls.