MINDANAO–Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is planning to send former president Fidel Ramos as special envoy to China to discuss issues related to South China Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte (R) speaking to former president Fidel Ramos during a Testimonial Dinner Reception

Latest reports from ABS-CBN News indicate that Beijing is pleased with the move.

On Friday, the government sent Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay to Mongolia to attend the Asia-Europe meeting (ASEM) where he told the delegates the milestone decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is an important contribution to the ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea.

“The Philippines attaches the great importance to measures that will restore trust and confidence among parties in the region,” he said.

Earlier, upon learning of Yasay’s move to bring the subject at the meeting, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou told Asian media that ASEM is not the appropriate platform to discuss the issue.

Presidents and senior ministers from 51 countries are attending the meeting. ASEM provides an avenue for dialogue for them to address political, economic and cultural issues to strengthen relationship between the two regions in a spirit of mutual respect and equal partnership.

Yasay’s speech on the landmark sea ruling at Ulaanbaatar meeting was in defiance of China’s appeal not to bring South China Sea issue before any international forum.

Jose Calida, Solicitor General of Philippines, made a stronger comment in Manila on Friday by describing the sea ruling as “crowning glory” that renews one’s faith in international law.

Duterte broke his long silence on the ruling by saying it is time to hold talks with China.

“War? It is not an option. So what is the other side? Peaceful talks,” he said.

Duterte has asked Ramos to fly to China for talks. Ramos’ role as special envoy to handle China did not come as a surprise considering his international stature and exceptional skills in negotiation and diplomacy.

On July 5, Yasay had hinted at appointing a special envoy for back-channel talks with China after the tribunal pronounces its ruling.

Ramos seems to be the right choice. While serving as president, his negotiation skills only resulted in the peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) militants in September 1996. The deal ended a bloody war which had claimed more than 100,000 lives in over two decades.

A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, Ramos took his military science engineering degree from United States Military Academy at West Point.

 Possible confrontation

While the Philippines mulls talks with China to defuse tensions in the South China Sea, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai fears the tribunal ruling will intensify conflict resulting in a possible confrontation.

“It will certainly intensify conflict and even confrontation. In the end, it will undermine the authority and effectiveness of international law,” Cui was quoted saying in an AP report, hours after the sea ruling.

Chinese coast guard still continue their surveillance within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines preventing Filipino fishermen from fishing in the area.

The US too has increased naval patrols in the area after the tribunal’s ruling, a move that China views as provocative.

Despite a favorable sea ruling, some fishermen in Zambales Province are refusing to go back to fish in the West Philippine waters because of the traumatic experience they had when Chinese coast guards chased them and fired water cannon.

On July 14, a fisherman Valle sailed off to Scarborough shoal hoping to fish. But his boat was confronted by two Chinese rubber boats with an order from the coast guards to leave immediately.

He quickly sailed back to the Masinloc shoreline.

The local government of Masinloc has asked the fishing communities to temporarily look for other source of livelihood until tensions in the Scarborough ease.

Noel Tarrazona is a freelance Vancouver-based journalist and is presently in the Philippines.  He is also a senior analyst of Wikistrat and can be reached at ntarrazona@gmail.com

Noel Tarrazona

Noel Tarrazona is a freelance international journalist and a graduate school lecturer.

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