Former president: Young people can give Sino-Philippine ties a fresh start

Updated: 2016-07-04 08:16

By Deng Yanzi in Manila(China Daily)

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Improved relations between China and the Philippines are in sight through deeper people-to-people engagement, according to former Philippine president Fidel Ramos, who has urged the countries' leaders to meet soon.

Former president: Young people can give Sino-Philippine ties a fresh start

Fidel Ramos, the Philippine president from 1992 to 1998 who steered the country through an economic crisis

Relations could improve in the coming year, the 88-year-old told China Daily, as he urged the countries to promote more interaction among young people in areas such as education, art and music.

Rodrigo Duterte, the new president of the Philippines, has proposed opening bilateral talks with China after the ongoing arbitration tribunal announces its ruling on the South China Sea disputes. Ramos said the countries had continued talks through various informal channels despite the recent turbulence in diplomatic ties.

For example, the business communities in both countries have engaged in "back-channel" talks to ensure the continuation of trade activities, he said.

Ramos said he hopes Duterte will meet with President Xi Jinping soon, preferably in his first year in office. Their cabinet colleagues should also meet at an early date, he added.

He called for the Philippines to play a bigger role in China's Belt and Road Initiative, which comprises the strategic Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and seeks to connect China with Europe, Asia and Africa through closer trade, infrastructure and people-to-people cooperation.

As the Philippines is on two of the world's most important oceanic trading routes, the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, Ramos said it should occupy an important place in the maritime route.

With regard to the new administration, he believes it is essential for Duterte to build an inclusive economy, which can benefit and empower people in general.

Ramos, who served as president of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998, steered the country through an economic crisis. During his time in office, the annual GDP growth rate averaged 5 percent.

The country is now one of Asia's fastest-growing economies and recorded a GDP growth rate of 6.7 percent in the first quarter of this year.

However, as the Philippines continues to be affected by socio-economic inequality, Ramos said he is concerned about the gap between the rich and poor in terms of income, housing, education, health and life expectancy.

If the nation can "spread the benefits of growth" for six to 10 years, including throughout the six-year term of the Duterte administration, the country could successfully improve people's livelihoods, Ramos added.

What they say

Former president: Young people can give Sino-Philippine ties a fresh start

"I fervently believe that positive breakthroughs can happen for the now-problematic Philippine-China relations if the highest leaders, as well as top-level diplomats, can directly sit down to dialogue, to constantly communicate in order to focus on common interests rather than to exaggerate irritants or worsen points of disagreement."

Wilson Lee Flores, analyst and columnist at the Philippine Star newspaper


Former president: Young people can give Sino-Philippine ties a fresh start

"Downplaying the arbitration may be an ideal choice that will lead bilateral relations out of the deadlock. ... The arbitration case is a hot potato left by former Philippine leader Benigno Aquino for his successor. The best way to tackle it is by putting the ruling aside. Then the two sides can return to the bilateral consensus made by past administrations and resume bilateral negotiations for a peaceful settlement."

Chen Qinghong, researcher on Southeast Asian studies and an expert on the Philippines at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations


Former president: Young people can give Sino-Philippine ties a fresh start

"Based on the body language of (Rodrigo) Duterte and the Chinese ambassador, it seems the new Philippine president is intent on reviving bilateral relations by separating the territorial disputes from broader economic relations, which have suffered in recent years. ... But it is still up to the Duterte and Xi Jinping administrations to explore a way to overcome tensions and find a peaceful way forward."

Richard Heydarian, political analyst at De La Salle University in Manila


Former president: Young people can give Sino-Philippine ties a fresh start

"The arbitration has given some major countries outside the region a chance to stir up the situation there, escalate tensions, and make the South China Sea issue into a geopolitical problem. They forced the (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries to take sides. ... As the ASEAN has played a peaceful role in tackling the South China Sea issue, Manila unilaterally seeking arbitration is a betrayal of the ASEAN."

Xu Liping, senior researcher on Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences