MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said China "never asked for anything" in exchange for donating to the Philippines its first COVID-19 vaccine supply.
The Philippines on Sunday received 600,000 donated shots from Beijing-based drug maker Sinovac Biotech, which would allow the government to launch its lagging vaccination drive.
"China never asked for anything. China has been giving us everything but never asked anything from us actually," Duterte said in a press briefing. "Ang pinakamabigat ang Amerikano, ang hinihingi nila ang base."
(The heaviest is the Americans, they are asking for a base.)
Duterte recently said Washington must "pay" if it wanted to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement with Manila. In the same speech, he said he "cannot afford to be brave in the mouth against China because we are avoiding any confrontation."
Asked if this meant that the President was tough on the US and soft on China, his spokesman Harry Roque had said, "Hindi naman totoo iyan." (That's not true.)
"Ang ginagawa lang naman po ni Presidente ay nakikipagmabuting kapitbansa sa bansang Tsina dahil sa gustuhin at ayaw natin, talaga namang kapitbansa natin iyan ‘no," he said in an interview on the government's television network.
(The President is only being a good neighbor to China because whether we like it or not, it is our neighbor.)
"Sabi nga nila, kinakailangang makipagkasundo sa kapitbahay, maski hindi ka makipagkasundo sa kamag-anak ‘no. Importante po talaga na magkaroon tayo ng mainit na pagsasama sa ating mga kapitbansa in the same way na importante iyong pagiging mabuting kapitbahay natin sa ating mga lokalidad."
(As they say, you need to be in harmony with your neighbor, even if you are not in harmony with your relatives. It is important for us to have warm ties with our neighboring countries, in the same way that it is important to be a good neighbor in our communities.)
Beijing has refused to recognize a ruling that junked its sweeping claims to the resource-rich waterway, including parts of the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
China is supplying 25 million Sinovac COVID-19 shots to the Philippines. Observers have said Beijing might use its vaccines to push for its regional agenda.
The Philippines is the last Southeast Asian country to receive vaccine supplies, fueling concerns over the recovery of its economy which suffered its worst contraction on record last year.
The archipelago, which has the second-highest tally of infections and deaths in the region, has suffered lengthy lockdowns, hitting hard a consumption-driven economy.
— With a report from Reuters