Philippines-China relations

After Duterte’s SONA 2020, China vows PH ‘priority’ for COVID-19 vaccine

Sofia Tomacruz

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After Duterte’s SONA 2020, China vows PH ‘priority’ for COVID-19 vaccine

In this picture taken on April 29, 2020, an engineer shows an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus that was tested at the Quality Control Laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. - Sinovac Biotech, which is conducting one of the four clinical trials that have been authorised in China, has claimed great progress in its research and promising results among monkeys. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP) / TO GO WITH Health-virus-China-vaccine,FOCUS by Patrick Baert

Nicolas Asfouri

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin says the countries are ‘turning anti-epidemic cooperation into a new highlight in bilateral relations’

China has vowed to prioritize the Philippines’ request for a coronavirus vaccine after President Rodrigo Duterte said in his 5th State of the Nation (SONA) that he pleaded with Chinese President Xi Jinping to place Manila as priority. 

“The Philippines is a friendly close neighbor and we will give priority to its needs once we succeed in developing a vaccine,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a briefing on Tuesday, July 28. 

Duterte had also earlier spoken with Xi in a 20-minute phone call last June 11 where the Chinese President assured Duterte of China’s assistance in the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Tuesday, Wang reiterated Xi’s assurance, saying “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and the Philippines have been standing together with mutual assistance, turning anti-epidemic cooperation into a new highlight in bilateral relations.” 

Who gets a vaccine first?

With scientists around the world racing to find a cure to the coronavirus, experts warned of “vaccine nationalism” – or a “my country first” approach toward allocating vaccines. (READ: Why Duterte shouldn’t just wait for a vaccine from China)

In a Foreign Affairs article, analysts Thomas Bollyky and Chad Bown said that without global coordination or an “international, enforceable commitment” to distribute vaccines equitably, low- and middle-income countries will have a harder time gaining access to a long-awaited cure. 

“Supplies of proven vaccines will be limited initially even in some rich countries, but the greatest suffering will be in low- and middle-income countries. Such places will be forced to watch as their wealthier counterparts deplete supplies and will have to wait months (or longer) for their replenishment,” they said. 

The analysts likewise raised insights of Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, who told the Wall Street Journal he expects China to use its vaccines “predominantly for the large populace of China.” China counts 1.4 billion people among its population, one of the largest in the world. 

Earlier in the pandemic, international relations observers noted that as the number of new coronavirus cases were decreasing in China – ground zero of the novel coronavirus – the country gained room to focus more resources on providing aid to other countries affected by the disease. 

In ramping up foreign assistance, however, experts noted that China’s efforts were a way to deflect criticism over its handling of coronavirus cases in the crucial early days of the outbreak.  

The Philippines is looking to start Phase 3 clinical trials for 5 vaccines by October 2020. These include 3 candidate vaccines being developed in China. (READ: Searching for a coronavirus vaccine: What PH clinical trials will look like) –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.