Ramos as Philippine rep in China talks an inspired choice, say analysts

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) announced on Thursday that he would like to send former president Fidel Ramos (left) to China to start diplomatic talks after the South China Sea ruling.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) announced on Thursday that he would like to send former president Fidel Ramos (left) to China to start diplomatic talks after the South China Sea ruling.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

When he broke his unusual silence after the Philippines was handed a sweeping victory in the arbitration it brought against China, President Rodrigo Duterte turned to his go-to guy: former president Fidel Ramos.

Mr Duterte said he wants to send Mr Ramos to try to coax China, which has rejected the verdict, to start diplomatic talks.

It may have been an inspired choice, said analysts.

Mr Ramos is highly regarded in the region. The former military commander played an instrumental role in deposing dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and served as president from 1992 to 1998.

He was one of the founders of the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference held in Hainan province, China, which promotes economic dialogue in the region.

Political analyst Richard Javad Heydarian, of De La Salle University, said Mr Ramos may be the "perfect guy" for the job.

Mr Ramos is known to favour closer ties with China.

As president, he ably handled a tricky situation in 1994 when China seized a contested rocky outcrop in the South China Sea known as Mischief Reef.

"He was in the middle of the chessboard and he found a peaceful compromise," said Mr Heydarian.

"It cooled down tensions during that time. (Mr Ramos) preserved the overall constructive relations we had with China, which is why economic ties were not severed," he said.

While he has yet to decide on Mr Duterte's offer, Mr Ramos has already suggested that, at 88, he may be too old for the job.

Raul Dancel

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Ramos as Philippine rep in China talks an inspired choice, say analysts'. Print Edition | Subscribe