Philippines seeks formal talks with China on sea dispute: Ramos

Reuters, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2016 11:31 AM | Updated as of Aug 12 2016 02:51 PM

Former President Fidel Ramos. File Photo

HONG KONG – (2ND UPDATE) Former President Fidel Ramos, the Philippines' special envoy to China, said on Friday Manila wanted formal discussions with Beijing to explore pathways to peace and cooperation after a meeting with former Chinese deputy foreign minister Fu Ying.

Ramos was speaking near the end of a trip to Hong Kong undertaken in an attempt to rekindle ties with China, which have been soured by a maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

An arbitration court in the Hague ruled on July 12 that China had no historic title over the busy waterway and had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights there. The ruling infuriated Beijing.

"It's not really a breakthrough in a sense that there is no ice here in Hong Kong to break but the fish we eat... are cooked in delicious recipes," Ramos told reporters, having earlier referred to his visit as a fishing expedition.

According to a statement released by Malacanang, the meeting between Ramos and Fu sought to “build trust and confidence” and “find common ground for mutual benefit.”

“They stressed that building trust is very important to the long-term beneficial relationship between the Philippines and China,” according to the statement.

The discussions touched on “options and suggestions” including “avoiding tension and promoting fishing cooperation,” the statement said.

Despite the ruling, Filipino fishermen have been routinely shooed away from Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground held by China since the end of a tense naval standoff in 2012. It is located within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Ramos said neither side asserted their own sovereignty over disputed areas in Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef.

"There was no discussion on that particular aspect except to mention equal fishing rights," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who assumed office on June 30, tapped Ramos as his special envoy to China. The former president has vast experience dealing with China, having dealt with Beijing’s occupation of Mischief Reef in the mid 1990s.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea, believed to be rich in energy deposits. – with reports from ABS-CBN News in Manila