TAIPEI, Taiwan Taiwan's ruling party passed a resolution Sunday asserting the island's separate identity and calling for a referendum on its sovereignty, but failed to put any real force behind it, apparently out of fear of provoking rival China.
The resolution passed after a heated debate at a boisterous party congress was the latest in a series of steps taken in the waning months of President Chen Shui-bian's final term aimed at strengthening Taiwan's de facto independence, without pushing Beijing so far that it could respond militarily.
Nearly 60 years after splitting amid civil war, China still considers the democratic island part of its territory, and has threatened to attack if it moves toward formal independence.
The United States does not recognize Taiwan as a country, but Washington is obligated by law to supply it with defensive weapons. Fearful of being drawn into a war with China, it has consistently chastised Chen's independence-leaning moves, including his current effort to win Taiwan a long coveted seat at the United Nations.
In an annual National Day speech Sunday in Beijing, China's Premier Wen Jiabao urged Taiwan to resist moving toward formal independence.
"We will continue to work with all the Taiwan compatriots to oppose and repulse separatist activities for 'Taiwan independence' and advance the great cause of China's peaceful reunification," Wen said.
Sunday's DPP resolution calls for holding a referendum on Taiwan's sovereignty, and making the island's formal name "Taiwan." It also calls for the enactment of a new constitution.
"We should rectify our name to Taiwan and enact a new constitution as soon as possible," the resolution said. "A public referendum should be held at an appropriate time to underscore Taiwan as a sovereign state."
But in not demanding the jettisoning of the current official title of the "Republic of China," and offering no timetable for the enactment of the constitution or the holding of the referendum, the statement appeared relatively weak.
The Republic of China name connotes fealty to the "one China" policy that Beijing demands and the United States accepts. Getting rid of it would almost certainly be viewed by Beijing as a step teetering on the brink of a formal declaration of independence.
Many in the DPP fear that a clear-cut push for independence would hurt the chances of its candidate in next March's presidential elections, possibly turning off a broad swath of moderate voters. They fear provoking Beijing and threatening their economic well-being, even while opposing reunification with the communist mainland.
But for DPP hard-liners, that kind of moderation holds little attraction. Yu Shyi-kun resigned as DPP chairman last Thursday after his own proposed resolution language, calling for formalizing independence, was overridden in a preparatory meeting.
The adoption of the more moderate DPP resolution follows Chen's unsuccessful campaign this year to try to rejoin the United Nations under the name of Taiwan for the first time. For the past decade it had 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's U.N. bid to coincide with the presidential election, a move denounced both by China and the U.S.
In other moves to assert its separateness from China in recent months, Taiwanese officials have announced plans to revise school textbooks to drop references that recognize Chinese historical figures, places and artifacts as "national" and said they were considering abandoning Taiwan's long-standing policy of recognizing Mandarin Chinese as the island's only official language.