Taiwan ruling party endorses constitution plan

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TAIPEI, Sep 30 (Reuters) Taiwan's ruling party today passed a resolution recommending a new constitution -- with its implications of independence from China -- a move that would outrage both rival China and chief ally, the United States.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and pledged to bring the democratic island's 23 million people under its rule, by force if necessary.

US leaders want to ease friction between the two.

After two hours of debate, about 300 representatives of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party approved a ''Normal Country Resolution'', which will serve as road map for the government in its efforts to create a Taiwan identity.

Although the resolution does not give details about a new constitution, political analysts say a new charter would likely contain language giving a legal basis for Taiwan independence.

Today's constitution, left over from Nationalist Party (KMT) governments that claimed both Taiwan and mainland China, still binds the two territories.

But the resolution omits more hardline suggestions to change the island's official name and redefine its territory -- moves that would have further upset China.

''There are those of us who think this resolution answers concerns from the United States and Japan as well as pressure from China,'' said party representative Chang Liao Wan-chien.

The resolution also suggests axing more references to China from the names of official institutions and companies on the island and scrapping a calendar system that counts years from the main opposition Nationalist Party's (KMT) establishment in 1911.

The KMT fled to Taiwan after losing to the Communists in 1949 and retained the name Republic of China, claiming its government represented all of China and would someday retake the mainland. The KMT lost the presidency in 2000.

Today's resolution also says the island should use ''Taiwan'' as its official title in efforts to join the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

The Democratic Progressive Party hopes to win legislative races in January and a presidential poll in March by zooming in on the issue of Taiwan identity.

An overly provocative pro-independence platform could alienate middle-of-the-road voters who want to maintain the status quo with Beijing.

''The KMT wants the status quo -- that's the main difference between us and the Democratic Progressive Party's resolution,'' KMT spokesman Su Jun-pin said.

REUTERS SG BST1600

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