Former President Fidel V. Ramos is on a mission to rekindle friendly relations with China strained by an international court ruling over disputed waters in the South China Sea in favor of the Philippines.
Ramos, who was president from 1992 to 1998, officially began his mission as a special envoy to China with an ice-breaker trip to Hong Kong, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports.
Ramos, 88, is accompanied by his wife Amelita and Rafael Alunan III, his interior minister during his presidency.
In a press briefing before his departure, Ramos described his trip as a “fishing expedition” on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte to strengthen peace in the Asia-Pacific region.
He said the first phase is renewing friendship between the Philippines and China, after which formal bilateral talks could begin.
Ramos said “no substantive matters” will be discussed, adding President Duterte instructed him to merely “renew our friendship with your friends from China”.
Ramos did not identify his Chinese contacts but said most of them, although not big investors, have business interests in the Philippines.
He said some of them were retired from the government but they could help influence China’s leaders.
Ramos hinted at playing golf with his Chinese friends from various places in China such as Haikou in Hainan province, Zhuhai in Guangdong and Shenzhen.
Asked if he will bring up the favorable ruling of the United Nations arbitral court in July voiding China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea, he replied: “I don’t know what my friends will bring up as a subject matter.”
“But it is not for me to bring it up because that is not my mission. My mission is to rekindle [our] friendship,” he said.
Ramos’ trip represented “the first concrete step” for both sides to engage and “could open a new chapter in settling disputes,” said China’s state news agency, Xinhua.
“Ramos is probably the best choice for the job of breaking the ice, since he is a revered statesman widely respected in his own country and in Asia,” it added in a commentary.
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