TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party said Tuesday that President Ma Ying-jeou would step down as party chairman following stiff defeats in local elections over the weekend that cast a shadow over his pro-China policies.

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party said Tuesday that President Ma Ying-jeou would step down as party chairman following stiff defeats in local elections over the weekend that cast a shadow over his pro-China policies.

A statement issued by the Nationalists in Ma's name said he holds himself responsible for the defeat and feels it is time to pass the torch after nine years as chairman.

"Over the last 120 years, the Nationalist Party has encountered countless failures, but has never been categorically defeated and each time we pick ourselves back up again," Ma said.

He said he would formally tender his resignation at Wednesday's meeting of the party's Central Standing Committee. Ma is halfway through his second and final four-year term as president.

In Saturday's polls, the Nationalists lost nine city and county elections, including in longtime strongholds Taipei, the capital, and the major central city of Taichung. The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party picked up seven of those seats, with independents winning two others.

That appeared to indicate widespread anxiety about Ma's moves to merge Taiwan's economy with that of China and further Beijing's goal of eventual political unification between the sides.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary.

A former Japanese colony, Taiwan split from the Chinese mainland amid civil war in 1949, and while the sides have no formal relations, the Nationalists have engaged extensively with China's ruling Communist Party in recent years.

Since 2008, Taiwan and China have signed 21 trade, transit and investment agreements, but protesters in March occupied parliament in Taipei to stop ratification of a China trade liberalization deal.