Palace: Odds of China pressuring PH with coronavirus vaccine ‘almost nil’

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2020 05:17 PM | Updated as of Dec 14 2020 05:35 PM

Palace: Odds of China pressuring PH with coronavirus vaccine ‘almost nil’ 1
A man works in a laboratory of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, during a government-organized media tour in Beijing, China, Sept. 24, 2020. Thomas Peter, Reuters/File

MANILA — The chances of Beijing using its COVID-19 vaccine to pressure the Manila over disputes in the West Philippine Sea are "almost nil", Malacañang said on Monday, contrary to a think tank's warning. 

President Rodrigo Duterte "shares many values with the leadership of China, including personal friendship with President Xi [Jinping]," said the Filipino leader's spokesman Harry Roque. 

"I think the possibility of using the vaccine as pressure, as far as the Philippines is concerned is almost nil," he told reporters. 

Beijing's offer of its homegrown labs to poorer countries "is part of their campaign to improve China's standing in the world, and to win the hearts and minds of people," said Philippine Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana. 

"The point of this vaccine diplomacy is on the one hand iyong (their) pledge to make it a global public good, to make it available, particularly to their close friends," he said in the same briefing. 

"But whether they'll make it a condition sa (in) geopolitics, that has not up in a discussion... There has been no attempt of the Chinese to link the two together," added Sta. Romana. 

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The Philippines aims to finalize talks for a vaccine supply deal from China's Sinovac Biotech this week. 

Chinese vaccine diplomacy "is not unconditional," Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia and Klaus Heinrich Raditio recently said in a paper published this month by the Singapore-based Yusof Ishak institute. 

"Beijing may use its vaccine donations to advance its regional agenda, particularly on sensitive issues such as its claims in the South China Sea," they said. 

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The move by President Xi Jinping to offer up a Chinese vaccine worldwide as a "public good" also allows Beijing to paint itself as a leader in global health, said the CFR's Huang, seizing a mantle left untended as the US retreated under Donald Trump's "America First" doctrine.

Washington is notably absent from a global alliance of 189 countries that have pledged to distribute vaccines equitably. Beijing signed up in October as its drugmakers launched final stage trials.

But this program has only secured enough doses to cover 20 percent of the population of low- and middle-income countries by the end of next year -- offering a commercial opportunity.

China is ramping up production facilities to make one billion coronavirus shots next year -- and, having largely tamed the outbreak at home, it will have a surplus to sell.

If China can capture just 15 percent of the market in middle and low-income countries, it would net around $2.8 billion in sales, according to an estimate by Essence Securities, a Hong Kong-based brokerage firm.

"Everyone is clamoring for a vaccine and Beijing is in a good position to tap gold at the bottom of the pyramid," said an analyst at the company, who declined to be named.

-- With a report from Agence France-Presse