Ramos' China visit marks Manila's first step in right direction over South China Sea

Source: XinhuaEditor: Huang Panyue
2016-08-09 09:09

Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos on Monday starts a trip to China, after months of tension between the two countries as a result of Manila's headstrong arbitration quest on the South China Sea. Ramos' visit brings a whiff of hope that the two countries will return to bilateral negotiations over the issue.

Ramos is probably the best choice for the job of breaking ice since he is a revered statesman widely respected in his own country and in Asia. His long history of friendly exchanges with China also gives him a unique advantage in helping revive chilly bilateral ties.

China has long insisted that the South China Sea disputes be resolved via bilateral talks and that parties involved refrain from moves that could further complicate the issue.

However, the Aquino administration, in disregard of regional consensus and his country's previous agreements with China, pushed for an ill-founded arbitration case with regard to its disputes with China over the South China Sea.

The lengthy process, which culminated in an absurd ruling by an international tribunal on July 12, severely damaged not only the relations between China and the Philippines, but also the prospects of lasting peace in the vast body of waters surrounded by a number of Asian countries.

So it is really a relief that President Rodrigo Duterte, who was recently sworn in, chose to distance himself from the arbitration case and showed a series of positive gestures toward China.

That said, it is still worth mentioning that the Manila-initiated arbitration case is nothing more than an abuse of international law and the deeply biased ruling on the case should have no place whatsoever in future bilateral talks over the South China Sea issue between China and the Philippines.

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.

But a return to the normal track of settlement depends largely on the sincerity of the Philippines. Decision makers in Manila should know that the fragile relations with Beijing could hardly take another hit.

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