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Chinese Ambassador cites ‘deepening’ defense cooperation with Philippines after donating COVID vaccines

Following the arrival of the 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines donated by the Chinese government, a Beijing representative over the week cited a "deepening" defense cooperation with the Philippines and its military.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian in a speech on Sunday repeatedly noted the friendship between China and the Philippines, which has warmed under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte even amid territorial concerns over the South China Sea.

"It is a fine tradition between China and the Philippines to help each other in trying times. Our two governments and peoples have helped each other and joined hands to fight the pandemic since the outbreak of the virus, forging a closer China-Philippines partnership," he said.

"It not only shows the solidarity, friendship and partnership between our two countries and peoples, but also signifies the intent of both militaries in jointly fighting against COVID-19 and deepening our defense cooperation," he added.

Over the years, China has insisted on a historical and indisputable claim over nearly the entire South China Sea. It has since expanded its presence in the waters, turning several former reefs into artificial islands with military facilities, runways and surface-to-air missiles.

Duterte has cultivated friendly ties with China since assuming the presidency in 2016, but invoked the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling invalidating China's sweeping claim in a speech before the UN General Assembly in September.

"A friend in need is a friend indeed. Last year, President Xi in his phone conversation with President Duterte reiterated that as a friendly neighbor, China certainly considers the Philippines’ need of COVID-19 vaccines as a priority," the Chinese ambassador said.

"No winter lasts forever, every spring is sure to follow. I hope that China and the Philippines would beat the virus and resume a prosperous development at an early date. I hope that new progress would be made for the China-Philippines Partnership in the new era," he added.

Out of the 600,000 doses that arrived Sunday afternoon, 100,000 will be given to the Philippine military who have also been included in the government's priority list in its vaccination program.

The shipment arrived on a Chinese Y-20 Transporter aircraft a little past 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, with the first shots scheduled to be inoculated in several hospitals across Metro Manila on Monday, March 1, 2020.

For his part, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III welcomed the vaccines as he said this would kick off the "largest" immunization program of the Philippines in history in terms of scale.

"We deeply appreciate this benevolent gesture from the Government of China. While these are challenging times, we express optimism that the Philippines and the People's Republic of China can work together towards a harmonious, sustainable, and healthy future," he said.

Malacañang in December downplayed concerns that China could put pressure on developing countries such as the Philippines on geopolitical issues, in exchange for the supply of vaccines against COVID-19.

"Eh anong pressure ho ang ia-apply ng Tsina sa atin? Ang ating polisiya po ay pagkakaibigan sa lahat at wala tayong kalaban, independiyenteng panlabas na polisiya -- independent foreign policy," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said, as he noted that the possibility of using the vaccine as pressure as far as the Philippines is concerned is "almost nil." — BM, GMA News