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WHEN former President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) leaves as a special envoy to China, it will be for a dialogue. There will be no hard proposals. In fact, President Duterte said, FVR will not be talking with Chinese officials, but with friends.
“He has many friends but it will not be the political officers,” the President said. He quoted Ramos as saying during a meeting on his coming trip – along with Rafael Alunan, FVR’s former interior secretary – that he was going fishing. To which, Duterte replied, “That’s good. Go ahead.”
In brief, this describes the mission of former President Ramos when he leaves for Beijing anytime now. There will be no formal talks, no formal negotiations. There will only be an effort to meet with some of China’s leaders in an effort to strengthen the relations between our two countries.
The coming meeting comes in the wake of the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, which rejected as without legal basis China’s nine-dash claim to most of the South China Sea (SCS). The Philippines had filed the case to protect its claim to exploration rights in the Reed Bank and fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal.
From the beginning, China refused to recognize the proceedings. And when the PCA issued its ruling, China declared it would not accept it. There are no provisions for enforcement of the court’s rulings. So China is standing by its claims. And because it has the capability to enforce its will in the disputed area, our mining companies remain unable to continue exploring for oil and gas in the Reed Bank, and our fishermen remain deprived of their traditional fishing grounds at Scarborough.
Like China, the Philippines has an official stand on the PCA ruling. As stated by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay, the Philippines’ official position is that the PCA ruling supporting Philippine claims in the South China Sea is final and binding. “When the time comes for official negotiations, we will not go out of the arbitral award,” President Duterte said.
But this is not the time to press the issue. Former President Ramos is not going to China to assert this official Philippine position. He will go there to meet with friends, perhaps to go fishing with them, to take up with them means to improve trade and cultural relations.
This is a typically Asian approach to issues. It is in fact the ASEAN way – consensual, non-confrontational. In the course of friendly discussions on a variety of matters, a way out of the seemingly impenetrable maze may suddenly open up. This is the FVR mission which he has received from President Duterte and our hopes go with him.