DAVAO CITY—Former President Fidel V. Ramos accepted President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to serve as a special envoy to China over the ongoing dispute in the West Philippine Sea but insisted that Duterte convene the rarely called National Security Council.
Ramos accepted the offer in a private meeting at the Marco Polo Hotel here even as Cambodia blocked efforts to reach a consensus on the matter during a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Vientiane.
Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza confirmed that Ramos sought a meeting of the NSC to forge a clear position in planned talks with Beijing and the council would likely meet on July 27, two days after Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address.
“The council will finalize the position first so that the former President can represent the Philippines very well,” Dureza said.
Ramos himself said little about the the envisioned talks and only said that he was physically fit despite his age and mounting health concerns.
“I have been cleared by my doctors at the Makati Medical Center,” Ramos told journalists after his meeting with Duterte, Dureza, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and former Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Paul Dominguez, brother of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.
“I have three ailments. First, I have only one kidney for the past 63 years. I have had a serious carotid operation and I have a new pacemaker,” Ramos said.
But the former leader joked with journalists and gripped hands to show his strength and even jumped in the air to drive the point.
The 88-year-old Ramos, President from 1992 to 1998, himself has experience in dealing with China over the West Philippine Sea after Philippine security forces discovered the first military structures on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in 1995.
The government issued a formal protest over China’s occupation of the reef and the Philippine Navy arrested 62 Chinese fishermen at Half Moon Shoal, 80 kilometers from Palawan.
A week later, following confirmation from surveillance pictures that the structures were military in nature, Ramos ordered military forces in the region strengthened while China claimed the structures were only shelters for fishermen.
Meanwhile, in Vientiane, Laos, China ally Cambodia is preventing Southeast Asia from reaching a consensus on the South China Sea after an international tribunal rejected Beijing’s territorial claims to the waters, a diplomat said Saturday.
The Asean is meeting in Laos for the first time since the UN-backed tribunal ruled earlier this month that China did not have historic rights to vast swathes of the strategic sea.
The issue is expected to overshadow the summit, with several of the 10 member states also claiming territory in the contested waters.
China invests heavily across Asean but is accused of trying to divide the bloc by habitually offering aid, soft loans and diplomatic support to key allies Laos and Cambodia.
A Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP Saturday that only Cambodia is standing in the way of a joint statement on the waters.
“It’s very grave. Cambodia just opposes almost everything, even reference to respect for legal and diplomatic processes which already has been in previous statements,” the diplomat said.
A draft of the communique obtained by AFP showed the section titled “South China Sea” currently blank.
Communist-ruled Laos also has close links with Beijing and has been accused of preventing a united front on the South China Sea issue.
But diplomats said as the chair of Asean this year Laos is trying to see a statement produced even if it is watered down.
“It does not need to take sides because even if only one country opposes, there is no consensus,” the diplomat told AFP.
Another regional diplomat said Friday that negotiations appeared to be at a deadlock.
“At this point positions are locked. Cambodia has taken a hard line. Laos is hiding behind its role Asean chairman and not saying anything but at the same time it is careful not to offend China,” the diplomat said.
Chinese pressure was blamed last month for a startling show of discord by bloc, with countries swiftly disowning a joint statement released by Malaysia after an Asean-China meeting.
That statement had expressed alarm over Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea.
The Philippines brought the international arbitration case against China, while fellow Asean members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have competing claims to parts of the sea.
In 2012 Asean foreign ministers failed to release a joint statement for the first time at the end of their annual gathering, with the Philippines blaming event host Cambodia for blocking criticism of China. With AFP
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