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Taiwan eying cooperation with Philippines on South China Sea

2017/03/31 19:20:38

(Photo courtesy of the Presidential Office)

Taipei, March 31 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has appealed for closer cooperation with the Philippines on several issues, including the South China Sea, after Manila seemed to push Taipei into further diplomatic isolation earlier this month.

Tsai expressed her hope that Taiwan and the Philippines could work together on trade, disaster prevention and the South China Sea during a meeting with former Philippine President Fidel Ramos in Taipei on Friday.

The president warmly welcomed Ramos, who has visited Taiwan yearly since 2009, and thanked him for supporting the strengthening of Taiwan-Philippines ties and advising the Philippine government on the development of relations, according to a Presidential Office statement.

During the meeting, Tsai pitched her New Southbound Policy targeted at strengthening Taiwan's relations with countries in Southeast and South Asia, saying that there was growth in both bilateral trade and Philippine visitors to Taiwan in 2016.

She also hoped for deepening bilateral exchanges at all levels and closer trade relations in view of the geographical proximity between Taiwan and the Philippines.

Relations could be advanced, Tsai suggested, by signing an economic cooperation agreement, cooperating more closely on visa streamlining, education and disaster prevention and holding a dialogue on South China Sea cooperation.

That may be a difficult wish list to achieve, however, especially when it comes to the South China Sea.

A Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said earlier this month that all member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adhere to the "one China" policy.

As a result, the spokesman said, regarding Taiwan's claims in the South China Sea, the ASEAN sees China as the representative in negotiations concerning those claims.

The Philippines, ASEAN's rotating chair for this year, is playing the leading role in organizing a series of ASEAN meetings in 2017, including those for talks aimed at crafting a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has said that under the current international situation, it will be difficult for Taiwan to join the negotiations or dialogue.

The 89-year-old Ramos, in Taiwan in a private capacity, is being accompanied by a delegation of Taiwanese businesspeople based in the Philippines on a four-day visit that started Wednesday.

Ramos, who was president from 1992 to 1998, was appointed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after his inauguration in June 2016 as special envoy for the South China Sea to manage diplomatic relations with China, foreign media has reported.

Ramos backed Duterte during the presidential election campaign but has become one of his critics since his inauguration, saying there was "too much unilateralism" in his administration, especially on law enforcement and security issues, according to reports.

(By Elaine Hou and Emerson Lim)
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