Philippines wants formal talks to ease tensions with China, says ex-president Ramos

Former head of state ends trip to Hong Kong to try to improve two nations’ ties, strained by sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 12:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 11:42pm

The former president of the Philippines Fidel Ramos say his country’s government wants formal discussions to avoid further tensions with China and to explore ways of increasing cooperation between the two nations.

Ramos’ comments came as he wrapped up his fence-mending mission in Hong Kong on Friday.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since an international tribunal in The Hague dismissed China’s claims to most of the South China last month. The Philippines is a rival claimant to some of the ocean’s waters and it bought the case against China to the court in the Netherlands.

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Ramos, a special envoy of serving Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, told a press conference he had discussed the issue of fishing rights in the South China Sea with Fu Ying, the chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress.

The discussions did not touch on sovereignty issues in the Scarborough Shoal area of the South China Sea, he said, a particular source of conflict between the two sides.

Ramos and his delegation are heading back to Manila on Friday after a five-day trip to Hong Kong during which he pledged to meet “old friends” with ties to President Xi Jinping.

A statement signed by Ramos, his delegation, Fu and the head of a Chinese think tank said: “Ramos, as an icebreaker, expressed the Philippine government’s desire to hold formal discussions with the Chinese government on issues of mutual concern and interest at the appropriate time to explore pathways to peace and cooperation.”

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Ramos also met during his trip with Wu Shicun, the president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies think tank based in Hainan province.

The statement said all discussions were held in a “personal capacity” and those involved looked forward to having formal discussions in “Beijing and Manila and other possible venues”.

Topics discussed included marine preservation and promoting cooperation in fishing, tourism, trade and investment.

They also discussed ways the two nations could cooperate on combating crime and corruption, plus increase exchanges between think tanks.

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The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said on Wednesday that China was open to engaging in dialogue with the Philippines through various channels and welcomed the visit of Ramos to Hong Kong.

Ramos told reporters he would need orders from President Duterte if he were to visit Beijing in the future.

“My reception as special envoy is on a one-time basis. It’s not continued. So after this one, we wait for developments.”