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Tuesday, August 9, 2016, 09:28

Ramos reaches out to China with golf

By An Baijie
Ramos reaches out to China with golf
Fidel Ramos, former Philippine president. (Provided to China Daily )

Former Philippine president Fidel Ramos started a five-day trip to Hong Kong on Monday to meet "old friends" and rekindle bilateral ties jeopardized by maritime disputes.

The visit is a first step in the improvement of bilateral ties. Experts said it should not come with high expectations as it is difficult for the two sides to agree on the South China Sea.

Speaking with reporters at Ninoy Aquino International Airport before his departure on Monday, Ramos said that he will not negotiate with Chinese officials on the maritime territorial dispute but rather engage in friendly relations and "play golf" with them, according to Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.

"Please do not make any mistake. I am not going there to negotiate. That belongs to the officials," he was quoted as saying. "My mission is to rekindle ties with China."

As a special envoy of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Ramos, who described his role as "an icebreaker", said that he had no authority to negotiate but expected that the formal phase of bilateral talks will take place "in the near future" between Philippine and Chinese officials.

Ramos did not identify the "old friends" he will meet in Hong Kong, but described them as either retired or not in an official capacity, although they could help influence China's leaders in Beijing, a Reuters report said.

"This may pave the way for future diplomatic talks," Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said in a text message to Reuters, adding that Ramos would "meet old friends and possibly play a few rounds of golf".

Ramos, 88, is said to be experienced in China-related issues. During his time as president, from 1992 to 1998, the two countries eased tensions caused by confrontations over the Meiji Reef.

Li Guoqiang, deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies, told China Daily that Ramos' trip to Hong Kong is a symbolic gesture of the Philippine government, and that bilateral ties are not likely to be improved in such a short period.

The arbitration case, initiated by Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino, is a hot potato for the incumbent Philippine government, which wants to benefit from China's economic growth, he said.

"On one hand, China will never acknowledge the so-called arbitral ruling, while on the other, Duterte will face pressure both domestically and from the United States if he accepts China's stance on the arbitration," he said, adding that China shouldn't have high expectations about the Ramos visit.

Jin Yong, deputy chief of the School of Foreign Studies at Communication University of China, said that even though Duterte has announced his willingness to negotiate with China, the Philippine government's attitude toward the arbitral ruling remains vague.

The Philippines' putting aside the arbitral ruling is a prerequisite for negotiations, he said.

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