Duterte writes Xi 'letter of solidarity' amid novel coronavirus epidemic

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has written Chinese President Xi Jinping a letter expressing his support for China amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said on Monday, February 17.

"For your information, yesterday afternoon, I received an advanced copy from the Malacañang, a letter written by President Duterte to the President of the People's Republic of China, His Excellency, Mr. Xi Jinping. In which letter, the President expresses strong solidarity with the Chinese president, Chinese government, and Chinese people. We are very appreciative of that," Huang said in a forum by the Association for Philippines-China Understanding in Pasig City.

"President Duterte…said China has been kind to us, and we can only show the same favor to them," he added.

Malacañang has yet to publicize the letter as of this posting, but Huang said it will be made public soon.

In the forum, Huang defended the Chinese government's response to the viral outbreak amid criticism that it had been negligent in alerting the public during its early stages.

The envoy went on to thank Filipinos and their government for aid and assistance sent to China "despite the urgent need in this country."

"Despite their own difficulties," the Philippine government sent 42 boxes of relief goods on a chartered flight to Wuhan City in Hubei, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, Huang said.

"In our view, this move is not only material support but more importantly, spiritual inspiration to the Chinese people. That's what we need," he added.

Duterte has consistently tried to shield China from criticism. When he first publicly addressed Filipinos about the outbreak on February 3, he chided them for seeking a total travel ban of mainland Chinese. He called it "xenophobia."

Philippine health officials have monitored and investigated 498 people for the novel coronavirus as of Sunday, February 16. There have been 3 confirmed cases of infection in the Philippines, one of whom died on February 1.

On Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said a total of 27 Filipinos, all crew members, have contracted the virus onboard the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess.

In China, 1,765 people have died from the virus, and 70,400 have been infected as of Monday.

The World Health Organization has warned it is "impossible" to predict how the outbreak would develop. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.