South China Sea
Manila To Beijing: Let’s Talk It Out

Philippines special envoy and former president Fidel Ramos says his country is looking to have formal discussions with China about tensions in the South China Sea. Reuters reports:

“Informal discussions focused on the need to engage in further talks to build trust and confidence to reduce tensions to pave the way for overall cooperation,” Ramos and Fu said in a joint statement on Friday.

They added that China welcomed Ramos to visit Beijing as the special envoy of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June and has signaled a greater willingness to engage with China than his predecessor.

“It’s not really a breakthrough in a sense that there is no ice here in Hong Kong to break but the fish we eat… are cooked in delicious recipes,” Ramos, who had earlier referred to his visit as a fishing expedition, told reporters.

The U.S. gave its blessing to such negotiations several weeks ago, although Secretary of State John Kerry was vague about what exactly he hoped the outcome of (or even the basis for) such negotiations might be. (Meanwhile, tensions between the U.S. and the Philippines remain high after President Duterte called the U.S. ambassador to his country a “gay son of a whore.”)

Whether China and the Philippines will come to some resolution or not is hard to predict in large part because it’s not certain what Duterte hopes to achieve through negotiations.

Day by day, it’s looking like the much-anticipated Hague decision won’t have the impact many assumed. The EU and ASEAN failed to condemn Beijing after the ruling, the U.S. affirmed it but has done little else, and Manila has been cautious (perhaps appropriately) to declare victory. Meanwhile, China, seemingly undeterred, is building out more advanced infrastructure on the Fiery Cross Reef.

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