MANILA (UPDATE) — China intends to donate some 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s commitment to President Rodrigo Duterte, visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Saturday.
A grant agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation worth P3.72 billion was also signed by the two governments for financing livelihood projects, infrastructure facilities and "other projects to be mutually agreed upon by the two governments," among others.
China's foreign minister announced the developments to Foreign Affairs Chief Teodoro Locsin Jr. during their bilateral meeting earlier in the day, according to a DFA statement.
The DFA said this was the 7th grant provided by China since 2016.
"This brings the cumulative grant resources received from the Chinese Government to a total of 3.25 billion Chinese yuan, or approximately PHP24.16 (b)illion," the statement read.
Meanwhile, asked to provide specifics on the vaccine to be donated by China, Ivy Banzon-Abalos, DFA Office of Strategic Communication and Research’s executive director, told reporters in a text message that “it will be up to the donor normally to determine which companies the vaccine will come from.”
Banzon-Abalos said it would be best to ask vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez regarding the details of the vaccine donation and its timetable.
“China has said it will take into consideration our side’s needs,” she added.
Locsin, meanwhile, expressed his gratitude to Wang for China’s assistance to the Philippines’ public health response since the outbreak through in-kind and equipment donations.
Both Locsin and Wang affirmed the two countries’ “commitment to mutual respect, managing issues peacefully and in accordance with international law, and exploring areas for possible cooperation.”
China lays claim to almost the entire West Philippine Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than one-third of global trade passes. Its fortification of artificial islands with military assets including airstrips and anti-ship missiles has drawn fierce criticism from other claimants including the Philippines and Vietnam.
But the 2016 ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated Beijing’s 9-dash line claim, its basis for laying ownership to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea.
However, according to the statement, the two officials said that the maritime issues “do not represent the entirety” of the bilateral relationship.
The Chinese foreign minister also emphasized the importance of shelving differences, citing how China and the Philippines have “withstood the test of the pandemic.”
“(W)e have stood shoulder to shoulder on the way forward to rise up to the challenges. I think it’s fair to say that the China-Philippines relations have withstood the test of the pandemic and learning this process our friendship has been further deepened,” Wang said, in a translated transcript of his remarks provided by the DFA.
“So standing at this new starting point of 2021, facing challenges beyond COVID-19 it is important for us to make an early plan of our interactions and cooperation for the whole year, shelve differences and build common ground, work closely with each other to firmly move forward along the course, jointly charted by our two presidents, and create more fruitful outcomes for our comprehensive strategic and cooperative relationship, and make more benefits to our two countries and the people of our two countries,” he added.
He also vowed Beijing’s cooperation in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he is ready to share “China’s stocks and announcements of China’s decision regarding vaccine cooperation.”
“So we would like to suggest that, our two countries have work together – focusing on COVID response and mutually beneficial cooperation and at sustained and new momentum to our relationship,” he said.
“In the process of the Philippine people’s response to COVID-19, China as a friend of Philippines and your closest neighbor, we will firmly stand with the people of the Philippines until the defeat of this virus.”
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian earlier confirmed that COVID-19 vaccines developed by China-backed pharmaceutical company Sinovac may arrive "as early as next month,” citing a "new era of partnership" between Philippines and China.
Renminbi clearing facility
The officials also witnessed the ceremonial unveiling of a plaque to mark the designation of the Bank of China’s Manila Branch as Renminbi Clearing Bank in the Philippines led by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno and Chinese Ambassador Huang.
“The launch of the Renminbi clearing facility will help boost the country’s financial sector and improve trading rates for participating Philippine banks,” the DFA said.