Philippine President Duterte to ask former leader Ramos to help start talks with China

A man pushes a trolley past a poster of the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) at Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar, on July 14, 2016.
A man pushes a trolley past a poster of the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) at Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar, on July 14, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday (July 14) that he will ask former leader Fidel Ramos to help start talks with China on the South China Sea dispute.

“War... is not an option. So what is the other side? Peaceful talks. I cannot give you the wherewithals now,” Mr Duterte said in a speech at his former university. 

“I have to consult many people, including (former) president Ramos. I would like to respectfully ask him to go to China and start the talks.”

Mr Ramos was in the audience, but did not quickly respond to Mr Duterte's  overture.

This development comes as Manila urged Beijing to respect a ruling by an arbitral tribunal at The Hague on Tuesday, which dismissed China's claim that it has historic rights to resources in almost two-thirds of the strategic sea, as marked out by its "nine-dash line" map from the 1940s.

The Philippines also said it plans to raise the issue for discussion at an Asia-Europe Summit (Asem).  Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay "will discuss within the context of Asem's agenda the Philippines' peaceful and rules-based approach on the South China Sea and the need for parties to respect the recent decision", said the Foreign Affairs Department.

If Manila raises the issue at Asem, this will likely anger China which does not want the issue to be discussed at multilateral events. Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said on Monday that the Asem summit was "not an appropriate venue" to discuss the issue.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will be among the Asian and European leaders attending the meeting in Mongolia on Friday and Saturday.

China on Thursday warned of a decisive response to provocations in the South China Sea, as it faced mounting pressure to accept the tribunal ruling.

“If anyone wants to take any provocative action against China’s security interests based on the award, China will make a decisive response,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. 

The Philippines had initially refrained from asking China to abide by the ruling, following Mr Duterte's directive to achieve a "soft landing" with China. Mr Duterte, who took office on June 30, had said he wanted better relations with China and to attract Chinese investment for major infrastructure projects.

The Philippines lodged the case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) over China's growing assertiveness, resulting in Tuesday's thorough repudiation of Beijing's claims.

The tribunal also declared that China had acted unlawfully by violating the Philippines' sovereign rights within its exclusive economic zone - waters extending 200 nautical miles from the Filipino coast.

China has rejected the ruling and warned its rivals that too much pressure on the issue could turn the resource-rich and strategically vital waterway into a "cradle of war".

The South China Sea is also claimed in parts by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.