TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party passed a resolution Sunday asserting the island's separate identity from rival China and calling for a referendum on Taiwan's sovereignty.
The resolution for a "normal country" — passed after heated debate at a boisterous party congress — calls for general use of "Taiwan" as the island's name, without specifically abolishing its current formal name, the Republic of China. It also calls for the enactment of a new constitution, but gives no specific deadline for either that or the referendum.
The resolution, which passed 250-73, could rile China, which has repeatedly threatened war if Taiwan formalizes its de facto independence.
"We should rectify our name to Taiwan and enact a new constitution as soon as possible," the resolution says. "A public referendum should be held at an appropriate time to underscore Taiwan as a sovereign state."
Taiwan and China split amid civil war nearly 60 years ago, but China still considers the democratic island a part of its territory.
The congress comes ahead of a presidential election next March as DPP candidate Frank Hsieh faces off against the popular Ma Ying-jeou of the opposition Nationalist Party, which favors eventual unification with the mainland.
The pro-independence DPP has routinely resorted to a strategy of provoking China to help it garner islanders' votes in past national elections.
Many Taiwanese fear a radical independence stance could provoke China to launch an attack against the island. But most people cherish the island's democracy and refuse to unite with communist China.
The resolution's adoption follows President Chen Shui-bian's unsuccessful campaign this year to seek rejoining the United Nations under the name of Taiwan for the first time.
Taiwan had for the past decade tried unsuccessfully to rejoin the world body as the Republic of China, the name it used in the U.N. before being expelled in 1971.
Chen has also pushed to hold a referendum to back the government U.N. bid to coincide with the presidential election, a move denounced both by China and the U.S.
But in setting the DPP's policy toward China, Chen backed off and decided to keep Taiwan's status ambiguous in the resolution, fearing an outright call to change the island's official name to Taiwan could hurt Hsieh at the poll.
The perceived softer stance has angered many pro-independence hard-liners. Yu Shyi-kun resigned as the DPP chairman the past week after his proposed version calling for formalizing the island's independence was overridden.