MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he asked his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for help to secure COVID-19 shots, and the latter made no demand that Manila abandon its maritime dispute with Beijing.
Duterte said he talked with Xi when the Philippines had yet to receive any vaccine supply.
“Sabi ko, ‘Mr. President, I would like to ask for your help. Until now, the Philippines is really at a loss on how to get the vaccines,” Duterte said in a taped speech.
“Sabi niya, ‘It’s okay, we will help you.’ Ganoon lang... Hindi naman sinabi kalimutan mo iyong Scarborough Shoal.”
(I said, Mr. President, I would like to ask for your help. Until now, the Philippines is really at a loss on how to get the vaccines. He said, It’s okay, we will help you. That's it. He didn't say forget Scarborough.)
Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, and has long been traditional fishing grounds for Filipino fishermen. But after a standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012, China seized control of the shoal, which prompted the previous administration of Benigno Aquino III to pursue an arbitral complaint.
Shortly after Duterte took office in 2016, a United Nations backed court junked Beijing's claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
Duterte has refused to press Beijing to obey the ruling, as he courted investments and loans from the economic superpower.
Chinese-made jabs make up the bulk of the Philippines' coronavirus vaccine supply. Duterte last week took a COVID-19 shot from Chinese state firm Sinopharm.
“It is never, never wrong to say that I owe you a debt of gratitude. Totoo eh. Binigyan tayo, tinanggap natin, ginamit natin,” Duterte said.
“But it does not mean na tanggapin ko ang bakuna, tapos sabihin ko kalimutan ko na iyong claim d’yan sa West philippine Sea… it is never like that. The world never operates like that.”
(It's true. They sent it to us, we accepted it, we used it. But it does not mean that I will accept the vaccines, then say I will forget the claim to the West philippine Sea.)
He said there would be “no compromise” in the issue.
“Alam ng China ‘yan. Maski bahaan tayo dito ng vaccine, gagamitin ko pa rin, pero sasabihin ko hindi ito iyong kabayaran. Iba ito. This is Philippine national interest.”
(China knows that. Even if we are flooded here with vaccines, I will still use them, but I will say this is not payment. This is separate.)
China and Beijing's maritime spat flared up again in March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.
China has refused repeated calls from the Philippines to withdraw the boats, and tensions have intensified as Manila steps up maritime patrols in the area.
– With a report from Agence France-Presse