Focus on Scarborough access, envoy urges gov't

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 15 2016 06:25 PM

Photo: Reuters/U.S. Navy

MANILA - The Philippines should not flaunt its landmark victory in international court and instead focus on convincing China to allow unimpeded access to fishing in the Scarborough Shoal, Manila's former envoy to the United Nations said Friday.

Emotions still run high in China after the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that its claims to almost the entire South China Sea had no legal basis and using the ruling as basis for talks with Beijing will be "counter-productive," said former Ambassador Lauro Baja.

Just two days after the decision, Chinese coast guard blocked Filipino fishermen from entering Scarborough Shoal, which China has held since the end of a naval standoff in 2012.

"Let's feel confident with each other first," Baja told ABS-CBN News. "Put (the talks) in the context of reliving our closeness with China before the situation in the South China Sea ensued."

'FVR BEST MAN TO LEAD TALKS WITH CHINA'

The tribunal based in The Hague ruled that Manila had the right to exploit resources within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, portions of which are controlled by Beijing.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday asked former President Fidel Ramos to lead the bilateral talks with China.

Though Ramos has yet to formally accept his designation as special envoy, a Malacañang source told ABS-CBN News that he was set to leave for Beijing next week.

Baja said Ramos was the right person for the job, citing his "network" in Beijing and "rapport" as president from 1992 to 1998 with then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The two leaders sang a duet when Jiang visited the Philippines in 1996.

Ramos also helped set up and later chaired the Hainan-based Boao Forum for Asia, also known as the "Asian Davos" because it was patterned after the annual World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

File photo of former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) shaking hands with Fidel Ramos, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bo'ao Forum for Asia (BFA) and former Philippine president, during a meeting with the members of the Board of Directors of BFA, in Bo'ao, south China's Hainan Province, Nov. 1, 2003. Photo courtesy of Chinese embassy in Manila

"I can't think of any person who has the stature to undertake the assignment of a special envoy other than former President Fidel V. Ramos," Baja said.

Baja said the bilateral talks should concentrate first on "low-hanging fruits," like allowing Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal, and not on big-ticket items like Beijing's island-building in the South China Sea.

Baja also advised Filipino fishermen not to set sail "in droves" to the shoal, which is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales, which faces the South China Sea.

"If they could help it, maybe wait for some more days," he said.