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MANILA, Philippines – Former president Fidel Ramos left for Hong Kong on Monday, August 8, to “warm up again” relations between the Philippines and China – what he hopes will be the foundation of future bilateral talks with the Asian giant.
Ramos took Philippine Airlines flight PR306 to Hong Kong that departed around 2:30 pm on Monday. (READ: Ramos accepts Duterte offer to be envoy for China talks)
He was accompanied by his wife former First Lady Amelita Ramos; former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III; former ABC Network Beijing Manager Chito Sta Romana; and Ramos' grandson, Samuel Ramos Jones.
Ramos described his mission on this trip as the “icebreaker” between the Philippines and China. He said no “substantive matters” would be discussed in Hong Kong and that he is not going there to negotiate on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute. (READ: Duterte hints he can set aside Hague ruling for China talks)
“What [President Duterte] said was, 'Please just renew our friendship with your friends from China,' that’s all. But I’m expecting that the formal phase of bilateral talks will take place in the near future between the officials of our countries,” said Ramos.
LOOK: Former Pres Ramos' wife Amelita, his 24 year-old grandson Samuel Ramos Jones going w/ him to HK (Corrected) pic.twitter.com/Gco8igyG7J — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) August 8, 2016
The former president, known to have been friendly with China in his years as president, said he is meeting with “old Chinese friends,” but said their identities are “still confidential.” (READ: Time for a Ramos model in the West Philippine Sea?)
He hinted that they may have business interests in the Philippines and that some of them may have been government officials at one point in their careers.
“I knew them as private sector, but I also know them as government, but I also know them as retired, so I don’t know what they are right now,” teased Ramos.
Asked if he would bring up pressing issues like the harassment of Filipino fishermen who attempt to fish in the West Philippine Sea, he said, “it depends, if they bring it up.”
Ramos called the trip a “fishing expedition,” saying it meant the talks in Hong Kong would be purely “exploratory.”
But Ramos said “maybe there will be already one or two dialogues” in Hong Kong and that the state was selected as a meeting place because of its proximity to mainland China.
“I don’t know at this point, but from Hong Kong, that is a very convenient launching pad to reach other places in China,” said the former president.
“I am just the icebreaker, to rekindle, to warm up again our good, friendly neighborly relations with China and that’s all I have to do and maybe that’s all I can do. But that is a big enough job as I see it and I’ll do my best,” he emphasized.
The dialogues he would engage in with his contacts would be the “preliminary phase” to pave the way for formal bilateral talks.
Ramos admitted his health and old age were big considerations in planning the trip. Part of his wife’s role would be as “caregiver” to help him take his daily maintenance requirements of “18 separate pills, tablets, and capsules.”
He also has to have his blood pressure, heartbeat, and blood sugar count read 4 times a day and reported back to his doctors.
Samuel Ramos Jones, his grandson, is a 24-year-old political economy graduate from Yale University who will be “taking notes” and reporting on the trip to Department of Foreign Affairs officials.
Alunan, who was Ramos' interior and local government secretary, was assigned by President Duterte as Ramos’ substitute for preliminary talks with China.
Earlier: Ramos refused to start presscon 'til pic of Duterte was put on wall behind him in NAIA2 presidential lounge pic.twitter.com/jNfes7fTW4 — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) August 8, 2016
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.