Will the Sino-Philippine relationship be steered into a fresh start after Fidel V. Ramos, former Philippine president, accepted a post as the special envoy to China? Given Ramos' proposal for Manila to set aside the recently announced award in the South China Sea arbitration
and a resumption of bilateral talks with Beijing, people started to raise their hopes.
The 88-year-old former president has devoted himself to fostering friendly ties between Beijing and Manila. During his presidency from 1992 to 1998, bilateral relations developed steadily in all areas. Ramos has attended the Boao Forum more than once after he left office, offering advice on how to improve the Sino-Philippine relationship that is on the edge of tumbling down.
Meanwhile, as a politician who graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point, he also developed friendships with his classmates who later became high-level officials in the US military. Having good ties with both Beijing and Washington is probably the very reason for Ramos' appointment this time.
On Thursday last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte publicly voiced his stance over the South China Sea issue - "War is not an option. So what is the other side? Peaceful talks." And he has recently showed an increasingly pragmatic attitude toward his nation's relations with Beijing as well as the South China Sea tension by saying "it's China that has money, not America," hinting that he is open to Ramos' suggestion of putting the arbitration award aside in order to get benefits from China.
The Philippines has been heavily relying on imported fossil fuel. However, with growing need for resources at home and the reality that the nation is running out of domestic natural gas, Manila has no time to wait to discuss joint exploitation of natural reserves on Liyue Tan, also known as the Reed Bank, with China.
The South China Sea issue is a dispute over sovereignty. Both Beijing and Manila are well aware that bringing the dispute back to the negotiating table between the two sides is the only way out. After the Philippines wasted so much effort in filing a lawsuit against China, complicating the South China Sea situation, it has eventually circled back to the starting point - hoping for bilateral talks regardless of The Hague award.
China will not turn its back on Manila's good faith. But China's bottom line is also clear - future dialogue must not be conducted on the basis of the arbitration award. The fantasy over the award's influence must be cast away.
Provoking a neighboring country while turning itself into cannon fodder for games among major powers will bring no benefit to the Philippines. China welcomes Manila to jointly develop natural resources in the South China Sea, but only if the latter does not step on Beijing's bottom line. This is key to the prediction of whether Ramos will bring Sino-Philippine ties to a new start.