‘Optimistic’ Ramos to meet up with ‘old friends’ on Hong Kong diplomatic mission

Former Philippine leader gives little away about trip, naming just one person he will meet in his efforts to smooth ties between Beijing and Manila

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 11:26pm

Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos was expected to meet well-connected “old friends” in Hong Kong as he embarked on Tuesday on his mission to mend ties ­between Manila and Beijing.

Ramos, who arrived in Hong Kong on Monday as a special envoy of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, said on Tuesday that whether he would visit Beijing would depend on the two nations’ foreign ministries, and the outcome of his Hong Kong trip.

Relations between China and the Philippines were battered when Manila took their dispute over the South China Sea to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, triggering fury in ­Beijing.

The international tribunal ruled last month that Beijing’s claims to most of the disputed waters had no legal basis. Beijing refused to take any part in the proceedings and said it would ignore the ruling.

Ramos said he would meet “old friends with links to [Chinese President] Xi Jinping and very successful businessman who have interests in the Philippines”.

“They all have links with Beijing, because some of them are already retired but elevated to the parliament as chairman of this and that committee,” he said.

Ramos the icebreaker: former Philippine president heads to Hong Kong to test China waters

But he gave no details of his itinerary or who he planned to meet, saying only that he would talk to Wu Shicun, who heads the National Institute for South China Sea Studies think tank in Hainan.

Wu gained attention in May in the lead-up to the ruling when he and former deputy foreign minister Fu Ying made China’s case

in an article in US magazine The National Interest .

It is unclear where the meeting between Ramos and Wu will be held.

Whether I am going to Beijing depends on my president in the Philippines ... because it depends on the developments [of my Hong Kong visit]
Fidel Ramos

Ramos said he would seek to ­improve economic and tourism links by, for example, allowing “more fishing in the common fishing ground” of the Scar­borough Shoal.

Observers said Hong Kong was seen as neutral ground for both sides to test the waters. If the trip failed to bring positive results, Ramos could return to Manila without causing much embarrassment to either side.

“Whether I am going to Beijing depends on my president in the Philippines ... because it depends on the developments [of my Hong Kong visit],” Ramos said.

“It has to do with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some coordination has been done between our embassy in Beijing and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing.

“And of course, if there is any development, they will inform the consulate here in Hong Kong.

“I am an optimistic person,” Ramos said, adding that he believed the Hong Kong trip would achieve “win-win results”.

Multimedia special: 70 years of construction, conflict and combat on the South China Sea

Speaking before he left Manila on Monday, Ramos said he came as an “icebreaker” and would try to rebuild Manila’s ties with Beijing, but he would not negotiate maritime disputes with Chinese ­officials.

Lin Yongxin, from the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said Beijing and Manila needed more dialogue and ­Ramos’ trip could be seen as a good start for reviving bilateral ties.

But while it was possible for both sides to make some inroads into improving economic and tourism links, Lin said the tribunal’s South China Sea ruling would remain the difficult part in improving ties.