FVR’s China mission: No hard proposals, just dialogue
(The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Fidel Ramos, appointed as special envoy to China, is on a mission mainly to break the ice with Beijing and will not present any “hard proposals” on resolving the South China Sea issue.

“I’m sending president Ramos for a dialogue. There is no hard proposal yet,” Duterte told editors and reporters of The STAR at Malacañang yesterday.

Asked what his instructions to Ramos were, the President quoted Ramos as saying, “I’ll just go fishing.”

“I told him, ‘That’s good. Go ahead,’” Duterte said.

He clarified that Ramos’ trip is not yet part of the official negotiations on the South China Sea row. In fact, the former president will not be talking with Chinese officials but with “friends.”

“He has many friends, but it will not be the political officers,” Duterte said, noting that if Ramos talks to Chinese officials, it may be misconstrued as formal negotiations.

Duterte stressed that the government is not yet at the “negotiations” stage.  

“It is not time to be insistent,” the President added. “When the time comes for negotiations, we will not go out of the arbitral award.”

Duterte said he has tapped former interior secretary Rafael Alunan to join backchannel talks.

Other people may also be asked to participate in the dialogue, including former ABC News Beijing bureau chief Chito Sta. Romana.

“He has been there for a long time. He has been living there since he escaped from the Marcos regime,” Duterte said of the newsman.

Last July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague declared that China’s sweeping territorial claim in the South China Sea has no legal basis. The claim covers virtually the entire South China Sea but is being contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The court also awarded the Philippines sovereign rights over Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, and Recto (Reed) Bank, all located off Palawan.

China has refused to recognize the ruling, which it dismissed as “illegal since day one.” Chinese officials also claimed that the tribunal’s decision would not diminish China’s territorial interests.

Duterte previously said that the interest of the Philippines and its allies would be considered in efforts to settle the maritime dispute. He also gave assurance that all bilateral talks with China would be anchored on the ruling.

Advice to fishermen

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) advised Filipino fishermen yesterday to avoid operating near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to avoid harassment.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose said avoiding the disputed shoal off Zambales until the Philippines and China have discussed the issue is for everyone’s safety.

“For safety, because that is part of the call for restraint, while there is no clarity yet,” he said.

He said the return of Filipino fishermen to Panatag Shoal is one of the priority issues that would be taken up by Ramos.

“It is clear in the ruling on the arbitration, where it defined, clarified the extent of our maritime entitlements. It was also clarified that there is no basis under international law, especially UNCLOS, China’s nine-dash line claim. So we all know the extent of our territorial sea, our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” he stressed.

With China again raising tensions, the Philippines called on parties to exercise restraint and not to undertake any measures that will further raise tensions in the region.

The Philippines underscored yesterday the climate of trust and confidence required for the management of disputes in the South China Sea and their eventual resolution.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said a climate of trust and confidence could only be built if all parties adhere to a set of rules and principles accepted by the international community.

He said the Philippines is ready to engage all relevant stakeholders, especially the claimant-states, and the country is confident that the PCA decision will help find ways forward to resolve the disputes. 

“Our experts have studied this award with the care and thoroughness it deserves, and it is clear that the Philippine case has been vindicated,” Yasay said.

He stressed that the award is final, binding and now provides a basis for a rules-based approach for resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

“This market place of ideas will flourish if we are all deeply committed to the rule of law… Coercion or imposition has no place in this free market of ideas,” Yasay said in his speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo at the Second Manila Conference on the South China Sea held at the Manila Hotel.

The secretary said the world is closely watching developments in the South China Sea.

The First Manila Conference on the South China Sea, convened in 2011, produced meaningful outcomes that are still relevant today.

In 2015, the East Asia Summit (EAS) declared that a maritime regime based on international law, including freedom of navigation and over flight and other lawful uses of the seas, is important for the region’s continued economic growth.

The Philippines, together with Japan and the United States, has also been leading the work of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum Inter-Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security.

There is also the expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, which includes ASEAN plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

“This renewed regional focus on maritime security has captured the interest even from outside the region,” he said. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon urged China to abide by the ruling handed down by the PCA regarding the disputed areas in the South China Sea and allow Filipino fishermen in these waters.

The Supreme Court of China recently ruled that foreigners who engage in illegal hunting or fishing in the South China Sea would be prosecuted and imprisoned for up to one year.

Drilon said that this is akin to the saying that might is right and this should not be case at all.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said that there should be a continuing dialogue between the Philippines and China. – Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Marvin Sy

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