RP, China eye ‘two-track’ mode in settling dispute

The Philippines and China are looking at a "two-track" system to allow them to cooperate in some areas while separately handling "contentious issues" such as their South China Sea territorial dispute.

Former president Fidel Ramos and former interior secretary Rafael Alunan discussed the proposal at meetings with Chinese representatives in Hong Kong on a trip aimed at improving relations.

Ramos, a longtime advocate of closer ties, said the talks were "very hospitable... very encouraging, in the sense that we have a common interest" in such goals as fighting global warming.

They met with Fu Ying, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the National People's Congress, China's communist-controlled legislature.

Alunan said both sides discussed "encouraging track two or think-tank exchanges... where we will be discussing contentious issues."

"That would relieve us (of) the burden of discussing contentious issues because we have another group doing that while we explore ways and means on how to move our relations forward," he told reporters.

He did not say which "think-tanks" would be involved in these issues, apparently referring to the two countries' territorial dispute over the South China Sea. When asked if they discussed a UN-backed tribunal's ruling last month that Beijing's claims over most of the South China Sea were invalid, Ramos said "we never mentioned that."

The decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration was widely seen as a victory for the Philippines which has challenged China's claims to the vital waterway.

China refused to recognise the decision and had demanded that the Philippines disregard it in future talks. The Philippines rejected this.

Both Ramos and Alunan stressed that they were only informal envoys and that further formal talks would be handled by other parties.

Ramos said they also "talked about fishing," referring to China driving away Filipino fishermen from a shoal it occupied in 2012 after a stand-off with Philippine authorities.

The shoal is 230 kilometres (140 miles) off the main island of Luzon and 650 kilometres from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese landmass.

Ramos said he discussed restoring the previous situation where Chinese, Filipino and even Vietnamese fishermen freely plied their trade in the Scarborough Shoal.

However both Ramos and Alunan said the Chinese side made no commitments and merely noted their proposals.

While the territorial dispute has strained ties, new President Duterte has previously said he would seek Chinese help for vital infrastructure projects.

FVR focus on rekindling China ties

In a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo, the 88-year old former President, said that in a bid to "rekindle friendly ties" they were able to discuss points of cooperation to ease apparent tensions.

"We focused on the need to engage in discussions to build trust and confidence to reduce tensions to pave the way for overall cooperation for the benefit of both their peoples and the region," the former President said.

Ramos said among points of concerns discussed with the Chinese were encouraging marine preservation; avoiding tension and promoting fishing cooperation; anti-drug and anti-smuggling cooperation; anti-crime and anti-corruption cooperation; improving tourism opportunities; encouraging trade and investment facilitation, and encouraging track II (think tank) exchanges on relevant issues of mutual concern and interest.

Alunan said that up to this point they are having a hard time how to utilize the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling that theoretically dashed Beijing's claims over the SCS of which some parts are oherwise known as the West Philippine Sea.

"It was not discussed thoroughly in our meetings. However, it remains to be an important factor that should be discussed when the formal bilateral talks between the President's official team and China's," Alunan said in the same press conference with Ramos.

"Raising it will not restore friendship if we did raise it," he added.

Alunan, however, said that China should be wary of the ecological damages accordingly caused by China's orbiting at the portions claimed to be the Philippines.

Ramos said the negotiating team will report first to Duterte before planning to go to Beijing, China for official talks.

"We will report first to our appointing authority, which is President Duterte, but he is in Mindanao right now and may not be back right away. So we reported to two secretaries concerned, National Security Adviser, Vice Admiral (Vicente) Agdamag and the Department of Foreign Affairs represented by Ambassador Lea Rodriguez," Ramos said.

He further said that they have done the official protocol reports.

"But as soon as they are back in Manila, we will report to the President personally and then he will tell us what is the next step," he added.

Ramos said the talks with the Chinese were very encouraging in the sense that "(we have) common interest. Our common interests are the 2030 United Nations 17 Sustainable Goals. Can you imagine (what we can do if we are helping one another), poverty will be removed and (in the end) world brotherhood (will be established), and then World (War) III and violence will be (eliminated)."

"This is a point that China cannot deny. It should have thought of that beforehand. It cannot say one thing and do another, and then threaten protesters who cite agreements China signed to maintain ecological security," Alunan said.

Source: Daily Tribune