Taipei, April 29 (CNA) The U.S. presence in East Asia could be compromised as China is expected to emerge as the region's leader if a cross-Taiwan Strait trade pact forces South Korea and Japan to seek closer economic ties with China, Taiwan's main opposition party leader said Thursday.
At a 60-minute press conference, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen addressed dozens of international media members on various political matters, most notably her debate with President Ma Ying-jeou last Sunday on the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).
Ma said the agreement, which he intends to sign before June, would ease cross-strait tension and benefit Taiwan's economy.
Tsai said the pact would pressure regional powers such as South Korea and Japan to actively seek free trade agreements (FTAs) with China and eventually shift the power balance in the region.
"China will be the center of this region and the U.S. will be marginalized," she said.
"We don't have a problem with China leading the region -- if it's a democracy and a market economy, " she added.
Tsai said that her party, which has been widely seen as adopting a "zero-sum" strategy in managing it's cross-strait relations, will pursue a "more stable, consistent and predictable (China) policy." The DPP will use its experience ruling the country from 2000 to 2008 to draw up "10-year policy guidelines" that will improve its ability to manage relations with China as well as the U.S. and Japan, Tsai said.
According to the pro-independence DPP, the guidelines will be unveiled in August and offer flexible strategies for resolving problems facing Taiwan.
In terms of the ECFA, "it's not as urgent as President Ma said and the benefit is not as much as the government claimed," Tsai said.
The ECFA is not necessary to ease cross-strait tensions, Tsai said, adding that cross-strait relations have been relatively stable due to extensive trade activity. The real tensions Taiwan needs to address are domestic economic and social matters, she said.
Tsai said that the World Trade Organization (WTO) would provide enough room, protection and mechanisms for Taiwan to boost its economy and deal with countries all over the world. "There's no need to go beyond the WTO," she said.
While Ma contended that Taiwan will be able to secure FTAs with other countries after signing the ECFA, Tsai added, it will set a bad example and appear that Taiwan needs China's consent before engaging in activities with the international community.
At the same time, trade volume between Taiwan and China is expected to increase after the pact is signed and could cause reduction of trade with other countries, compromising the incentive for them to sign FTAs with Taiwan, she said.
Responding to a question, Tsai said that if the deal is signed and the DPP returns to power in 2012, it could terminate the agreement or adjust its content after receiving public consent through either referendum or legislative discussions.
Tsai said that one of her biggest domestic concerns is the widening wealth gap. Citing a poll, she said that only one-third of Taiwan people stand to benefit from globalization, while two-thirds fail to gain -- or even suffer -- from trade liberalization.
The DPP supports a referendum proposal submitted by a minor opposition party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), that calls for a vote on the ECFA. Tsai said it would give people "an opportunity to make decisions" on major policy issues.
The DPP is still assessing the impact of the referendum on five year-end special municipality elections, she said. (By Chris Wang) enditem/bc