FVR mission to focus on tourism, fishing
HONG KONG―Former President Fidel V. Ramos on Tuesday said he wanted to focus on points of common interest with China such as tourism and commercial fishing as part of efforts to smooth relations with Beijing roiled by the South China Sea dispute.
President Duterte has asked the 88-year-old Ramos to act as his special envoy to pave the way for talks with Beijing after a ruling last month by an international arbitration tribunal invalidated China’s expansive territorial claims in a case put forward by the Philippines.
Ramos spoke with reporters on Tuesday in Hong Kong, where he said he planned to meet old friends with links to officials in Beijing as a prelude to further contacts.
“That’s why we’re standing by, and if there’s any development, the general consul will be the first one to know and she will inform us,” Ramos said.
China has denied Filipino fishermen access to traditional grounds lying within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer (200-nautical-mile) exclusive economic zone, an area Ramos implied the countries could share.
Discussing an agenda for talks, Ramos pointed to “some irritations that we would like to eliminate or at least remedy so that we can have common points of interest.”
“One of them is more tourism, more fishing in the common fishing ground, which is within the Philippine (exclusive economic zone), but where the Chinese fishermen have also identified as being part of their traditional fishing grounds,” Ramos said.
China, which has refused to participate in the arbitration case or recognize the ruling, insists bilateral negotiations are the only appropriate forum to discuss such issues.
The Philippines has complained it was forced to go to the UN-backed court in The Hague, Netherlands, because bilateral talks had gone nowhere.
‘Whiff of hope’
While Beijing has yet to formally comment on Ramos’ mission, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in an editorial on Tuesday that it “brings a whiff of hope that the two countries will return to bilateral negotiations over the issue.”
“Ramos’ visit, which represents the first concrete step on the Philippine side to engage in bilateral talks with China on the South China Sea, could open a new chapter in settling disputes,” Xinhua said.
China’s project of creating whole new islands from sand piled atop coral reefs in the highly contested Spratly group has been a particular source of tension with the United States.
New satellite photos show work proceeding on what seem to be hardened concrete airplane hangars suitable for housing Chinese Air Force planes, including strategic bombers and inflight refuelers.
The photos were collected and studied by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, and reported in The New York Times.
The photos showed construction work on man-made islands at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Zamora (Subi) Reef and Panganiban (Mischief) Reefs.
China has said the new islands are primarily to assist fishermen and other causes, as well as to reinforce its sovereignty claims.
China has also said that the artificial islands should be able to defend themselves, and that it is entitled to build whatever structures it wishes on them. AP
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