MANILA – Former president Fidel Ramos is set to fly to Hong Kong on Monday, as the Philippines and China try to explore options in improving ties in the wake of Manila's South China Sea arbitration victory over Beijing.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier tapped the 88-year-old former leader to jumpstart talks with China, as the new Manila government seeks to warm up ties with the regional powerhouse.
Ramos said his trip to Hong Kong would serve as an ''icebreaker'' between the Philippines and China, following years of animosity over the bitter South China dispute between the two neighbors.
''I'm just the icebreaker, ika nga (as they say), to rekindle, to warm up again our good friendly, neighborly relations with China. That's all I have to do and maybe that's all I can do,'' Ramos told reporters.
The former leader said his Hong Kong trip would only serve as a launch pad to the formal bilateral talks between Manila and Beijing.
''Eventually, I'm sure you'll hear this from high officials, that eventually there will be formal bilateral talks. The objective is to bring about a condition of peace, sustainable development and harmony in our Asia Pacific region,'' he said.
''I have no authority to negotiate. I'm not going to negotiate. I'm sure that will come during the formal talks between the officials."
Ramos said Hong Kong would be the best place to restart talks with Beijing as it is where most of his contacts are based.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China.
Ramos said he would be meeting with people whom he knew as a government official and also as part of the private sector.
He said Duterte did not give him particular orders, but only to ''renew your friendship with your friends from China."
''Maybe there will be already one or two dialogues, I don't know at this point. From Hong Kong -- you must understand the geography -- that is a very convenient launching pad, so to speak, to reach other places in China,'' Ramos said.
The Philippines under the Duterte administration has sought to renew ties with China after the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III gave up on holding direct dialogues with Beijing.
China insists that bilateral talks are the only way to resolve the dispute. Analysts believe that China is shunning multilateral dialogue as a dispute mechanism in order to avoid pressure from regional groupings.