Philippines seeking formal talks with China

Ramos avoids mention of Hague ruling in meet with Beijing official

Mr Ramos, Manila's "special envoy" to China, describes his mission as an "icebreaker".
Mr Ramos, Manila's "special envoy" to China, describes his mission as an "icebreaker".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Former president Fidel Ramos said yesterday the Philippines wants to have formal talks with China on issues that concern both countries, such as fishing rights and how to ease tension over territorial spats.

A statement issued by the office of President Rodrigo Duterte said Mr Ramos met with Ms Fu Ying, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the National People's Congress, in Hong Kong.

Mr Ramos, appointed by Mr Duterte as his "special envoy" to China, "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", the statement said.

It added that Mr Ramos and Ms Fu "looked forward to the beginning of a process of formal discussions" in Beijing and Manila.

Mr Ramos told reporters in Hong Kong that there would be a second round of discussions soon.

"As to where this will take place, we don't know yet. We have to go back to Manila to find out the latest developments on the official side," he said.

Mr Ramos said neither side raised the issue of their territorial dispute over parts of the South China Sea at the meeting.

"There was no discussion on that particular aspect, except to mention equal fishing rights," he said.

Manila has been asking Beijing to allow Filipino fishermen to trawl in the waters near the contested Scarborough Shoal, located just 240km west of the Philippines. It has been under Chinese control since 2012.

"It's not really a breakthrough, in a sense that there is no ice here in Hong Kong to break, but the fish we eat... are cooked in delicious recipes," Mr Ramos said, having earlier referred to his visit as a "fishing expedition".

Mr Ramos arrived in Hong Kong on Monday on a mission he has described as an "icebreaker".

A ruling last month by an international court striking down Beijing's claims to over two-thirds of the South China Sea was not discussed.

On July 12, a five-man arbitral tribunal in The Hague, constituted under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, ruled there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over the South China Sea.

China's claims are marked with a "nine-dash line" that overlapped with what the Philippines considers its 200 nautical mile "exclusive economic zone", as well as those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China has rejected the tribunal's decision, and said it would not enter into any negotiations that will bring up that ruling.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines seeking formal talks with China'. Print Edition | Subscribe