China pledges to give PH priority access to its potential COVID-19 vaccine

By Genalyn Kabiling

China has pledged to make its potential coronavirus vaccine a "global public good" and prioritize the Philippines to access it, owing to the close relations with their "friendly neighbor."

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and President Xi Jinping of People's Republic of China pose for a photo after declaring their joint press statements during the successful expanded bilateral meeting at the Malacañan Palace on November 20, 2018. (ALFRED FRIAS/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN) President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and President Xi Jinping of People's Republic of China

Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to President Duterte his country's closer cooperation to combat the pandemic, including access to vaccines and a steady supply of medical goods, in a phone conversation Thursday (June 11) evening.

The phone call between the two leaders lasted 38 minutes and was "productive, open, and focused," according to Malacañang. It transpired a few days after the two countries observed the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations on June 9.

"President Duterte stressed the need for cooperation in research trials for COVID-19 vaccine and treatments. While noting China’s vaccine development program, President Duterte emphasized the imperative of making vaccines accessible and affordable to all countries, including the Philippines,” a Palace statement read.

"For his part, President Xi reiterated China’s commitment to the international community to make any vaccine it develops a global public good and that as a friendly neighbor, China certainly considers the Philippines as a priority," it added.

The two leaders also tackled both countries’ progress in fighting the pandemic and their strategies to restart their economies under the new normal. Xi has offered China's full support to the Philippines in ensuring the supply chain especially of medical supplies and equipment, promoting the free flow of goods, and completing priority infrastructure cooperation projects in the country, according to the Palace.

The Chinese leader also extended his gratitude for the country's support for its own fight against COVID-19. He highlighted the Philippines' goodwill donation to the city of Wuhan "describing this as acts of kindness that shall be returned many times more," the Palace said.

Strategic cooperation

Both leaders have also agreed to further boost the comprehensive strategic cooperation between the Philippines and China to new levels. They likewise renewed their commitment to promote regional peace, stability, and prosperity.

"Both leaders expressed appreciation for each other’s very warm written messages on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the establishment of Philippines-China diplomatic relations. The exchange of letters demonstrated shared commitment to strengthen comprehensive strategic cooperation and articulated the resolve to uphold peace, stability, prosperity, and principles of international law, including the rule of law," the Palace said.

Xi likewise offered warm wishes to Duterte and the Filipino people on the observance of the 122nd anniversary of Philippine independence.

President Duterte recently sent a letter to Xi on the occasion of the milestone in diplomatic relations, saying he considers China a "close neighbor and valued friend.”

Duterte also recognized that the two nations must continue to strengthen the partnership especially in the face of the global health crisis. Xi, in his letter to Duterte, agreed to work closely with the Philippines on efforts to overcome the pandemic.

In recent months, China has donated medical equipment and supplies to the Philippines to boost its coronavirus response. Some Chinese biopharmaceutical firms have also recently been tapped by the Philippine government for the research and development of a potential coronavirus vaccine.

As of June 11, the number of the country's cases of coronavirus has soared to 24,175 with 1,036 deaths.

Years-long conflict

The two countries have been locked in a territorial conflict in the West Philippine Sea for years, with China aggressively reclaiming areas in the disputed waterway.

Under Duterte's leadership, the Philippines opted to pursue dialogue with China to manage the territorial dispute while pursuing close economic and security ties with Asian giant. Duterte often declared that the country cannot afford to go to war with China over the territory since it will lead to the massacre of government troops.

In July 2016, the Hague-based arbitration court ruled that China has no legal or historical basis to claim rights over resource-rich South China Sea. The United Nations-recognized tribunal said China breached the sovereign rights of the Philippines by building artificial islands, interfering with its fishing and oil projects. Beijing has refused to recognize the decision.