MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – On a phone call on the eve of Philippine Independence Day, Chinese President Xi Jinping assured President Rodrigo Duterte of assistance with the coronavirus pandemic.
Malacañang provided some details of the phone call that took place on Thursday night, June 11, and lasted 38 minutes. Two days ago, on June 9, the Philippines and China marked 45 years of diplomatic ties.
According to the Palace, Xi promised the Philippines would be a “priority” if China successfully develops a vaccine against COVID-19, the disease that has claimed the lives of over a thousand Filipinos and has infected over 24,000.
It was Duterte who stressed to Xi the need for countries to cooperate in vaccine development and “underscored the importance of making the vaccine accessible and affordable to all countries.”
Xi then promised that the Philippines, as a “friendly neighbor,” would benefit from the vaccine China is developing.
“President Xi, on the other hand, assured PRRD of his country’s commitment to make the vaccine available for all, adding that the Philippines, as a friendly neighbor, would certainly be a priority,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
The two presidents also spoke about how their countries are doing in handling the pandemic and the strategies they are using to restart their economies.
China state news agency Xinhua reported that the leaders praised each other for their responses to the pandemic.
Xinhua quoted Duterte as saying China successfully controlled the health crisis.
“Under Xi’s strong leadership, he [Duterte] said, China has not only successfully controlled the epidemic itself, but also generously extended a helping hand to the Philippines and other partners,” reads the article.
The Philippine leader also supposedly promised to be China’s ally against those who oppose it.
“The Philippine side will always be a friend of the Chinese people and will not allow anyone to use the Philippines to engage in anti-China activities, said Duterte,” said Xinhua.
Since he began his presidency in 2016, Duterte has been regularly criticized for his soft approach to China, even in the face of its illegal encroachments in the West Philippine Sea.
Beijing claims virtually the entire water body even if international courts have ruled that these claims are invalid and harmful to the Philippines.
Politics of a pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, a metropolis in China, which had imposed hard lockdowns to contain the virus.
While the World Health Organization had praised China’s response to the pandemic, several countries, including the United States and Australia, have demanded that the Asian giant be held accountable for allegedly withholding critical information that could have helped prevent its spread worldwide.
As the health crisis unfolded in the Philippines starting in January, Duterte had critically delayed declaring a China-wide travel ban, saying on January 29 that it would be unfair to single out the country when it was not imposing such bans on Filipinos.
He eventually declared the ban on February 2, following a ban on travelers from just Wuhan, epicenter of the disease, and Hubei province.
Duterte, in his public addresses about the health crisis, has often wished aloud, and repeatedly, for a vaccine. He has frequently mentioned the vaccine being developed by US biotech firm Moderna which had shown some promising results.
Moderna is set to start the final stage of clinical trials for its vaccine in July. – Rappler.com