HONG KONG: Former President Fidel Ramos said Friday he had met with a senior Chinese official during a trip to Hong Kong aimed at improving ties between Manila and Beijing, with both sides working towards formal discussions.
Relations have cooled since a UN-backed tribunal ruled last month that China’s claims over most of the South China Sea were invalid, in a sweeping victory for the Philippines which brought the case.
Ramos—a longtime advocate of closer Philippine-Chinese ties—was sent as a conciliatory envoy by President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a two-day meeting in Hong Kong, Ramos said he had discussions with Madam Fu Ying, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress — China’s communist-controlled legislature. Fu Ying is a former ambassador to Manila.
He also met with Wu Shichun, president of China’s National Institute of South China Seas Studies.
In a statement signed by Ramos, Fu Ying and Wu, the meeting was described as between “old friends” and had taken place “in a friendly atmosphere”.
It listed seven topics that had been covered, including marine preservation and co-operation on crime-fighting and smuggling.
Ramos told reporters they had not discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but had talked about fishing rights there.
“They discussed, in their private capacity, the way forward in the spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood for peace and cooperation between the two countries,” the joint statement said.
It added that all parties “looked forward” to the start of formal talks which it said would be continued in Beijing and Manila.
Ramos said 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.
Ramos took his characteristic informal approach to the press conference, asking reporters to stand beside him to ask questions and pose for the cameras, and telling one journalist to hold his stomach in while he spoke.
Philippine-Chinese ties have frayed in recent years due to tensions over Beijing’s claims to almost all the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing partial claims and are perturbed by China’s aggressive moves to assert its sovereignty such as by reclaiming islands and building airstrips.
China has angrily refused to recognize last month’s tribunal decision.