MANILA: Ex-Philippine president Fidel Ramos left for Hong Kong on Monday to "rekindle" ties with Beijing that have soured over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Ramos, 88, whom President Rodrigo Duterte named as his envoy for talks with Beijing, stressed that he was not going as a negotiator, but that he hoped to reopen dialogue between the two countries.
"I am just the icebreaker, to rekindle, to warm up again our good, friendly relations with China," Ramos, who served as president form 1992 to 1998, said.
Ties between Manila and Beijing have cooled especially since a UN-backed tribunal handed the Philippines a sweeping victory last month when it ruled that China's claims over most of the South China Sea were invalid.
China has refused to recognise the tribunal's decision.
A longtime advocate of closer Philippine-Chinese ties, Ramos said he would be gone for four to five days to meet with old Chinese contacts, former government officials who are now working in the private sector.
He added that formal bilateral talks would only take place after this trip, but hinted that he may travel on from Hong Kong to mainland China for further informal talks.
Asked if he would bring up the decision of the UN-linked Permanent Court of Arbitration, Ramos said "it is not up to me to bring it up because that is not my mission".
Duterte's spokesman Ernie Abella also confirmed Ramos's trip to Hong Kong, saying he would "meet with old friends and possibly (play) a few rounds of golf".
"This may also pave the way for future diplomatic talks," Abella said without elaborating.
Last month, Manila rejected Beijing's demand that it "disregard" the tribunal's ruling before the two countries could negotiate on the issue.
Philippine-Chinese ties have frayed in recent years due to growing tensions over conflicting claims in the South China Sea.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the sea, a major sea lane that is believed to hold vast mineral resources.