Former Philippine president Fidel Ramos yesterday named the head of a Chinese government think tank among the experts and officials he hoped to meet on a trip to rekindle ties with China soured by a maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the busy waterway and had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights there, infuriating China, which dismissed the case.
“I’ve always been a very optimistic person, always looking for the best results, but of course that also depends on the attitude of the Chinese officials,” Ramos told reporters in Hong Kong.
Ramos gave no details of his itinerary or of those he planned to meet, except for Wu Shicun (吳士存), who heads the National Institute for South China Sea Studies think tank, based on China’s southern island of Hainan.
Asked about others, such as former Chinese deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Fu Ying (傅瑩), Ramos said that he did not know yet.
“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 said he sought to improve economic and tourism links, such as by allowing “more fishing in the common fishing ground” of the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), which Taiwan also claims, in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“The idea is to use the South China Sea as a place to save lives, but not to kill people or to destroy lives,” he said.
China’s 2012 seizure of the Scarborough Shoal, denying Philippine fishermen access, was among the factors that prompted Manila to seek arbitration.
China has ignored the court’s ruling that none of its reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) entitled it to a 200-nautical-mile (370.4km) exclusive economic zone.
Taiwan also claims all of the Spratlys.
Ramos, 88, who described his role as an “icebreaker,” is known for an impromptu duet of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender with former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) at a 1996 banquet.
His trip represents “the first concrete step” in engagement for both sides and “could open a new chapter in settling disputes,” China’s Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.
Ramos was Philippine president from 1992 to 1998, when China occupied the mostly submerged Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁) in the Spratlys.
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