Xi tells Duterte the Philippines would be prioritized once COVID-19 vaccine is developed by China

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President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese leader Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting in April 2019 (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 12) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping has assured President Rodrigo Duterte that the Philippines would be prioritized once China develops a vaccine against the coronavirus disease.

Malacañang revealed in a statement on Friday that this was among the issues discussed by the two leaders during their "open and focused" telephone conversation Thursday night.

"For his part, President Xi reiterated China's commitment to the international community to make any vaccine it develops a global public good and that as a friendly neighbor, China certainly considers the Philippines as a priority," the Palace said.

On the other hand, Duterte stressed the need to cooperate with research trials aimed at developing a vaccine. The Philippines is expected to participate in the clinical trials by the last quarter of the year, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the policy-making body in the government's COVID-19 response, recently approved the Philippines' collaboration with some Chinese and Taiwanese organizations for the trials.

The vaccine being developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Sinopharm and the Wuhan Institute of Virology has entered the second phase of clinical trials, with 96 people being given the experimental vaccine, according to Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.

"While noting China's vaccine development program, President Duterte emphasized the imperative of making vaccines available and affordable to all countries, including the Philippines," the Palace said.

The Philippines is also part of the World Health Organization's solidarity trial, a global effort to find a cure for the viral illness, which has infected more than 24,000 people nationwide and killed over 1,000.

READ: PH resumes clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine after WHO recommendation

The Duterte government is counting on the East Asian giant to develop the vaccine against the new coronavirus, which was discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

READ: PH expects first dibs on COVID-19 vaccine if 'BFF' China produces it

Xi, Duterte discuss 'new normal'

During their 38-minute phone call on the eve of the 122nd anniversary of the Philippines' Independence Day, Duterte and Xi also talked about their countries' "crucial strategies to restart economies under the new normal." The Philippines has eased quarantine measures across the country in a bid to reopen the economy.

"President Duterte received President Xi's full support on ensuring supply chain connectivity particularly in critical medical supplies and equipment, promoting the free flow of goods and resuming and completing priority infrastructure cooperation projects in the Philippines," the Palace said.

Xi also thanked the Philippines for its "goodwill donation" to China's own COVID-19 battle.

In a separate statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila, Xi said Beijing will continue to provide “firm support” to Manila's fight against COVID-19.

The Duterte government has been vocal in thanking Beijing for its help. China has sent various donations and even a team of medical experts to aid in the Philippines' COVID-19 response.

PH-China ties

Earlier, the two countries marked the 45th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, wherein Duterte called for "further strengthening" of ties amid the coronavirus crisis.

Duterte has been criticized for nurturing friendship with China despite Beijing's refusal to recognize Manila's arbitration win in the South China Sea dispute. The arbitral ruling invalidated China's sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea and recognized Philippine sovereign rights in some areas in the West Philippine Sea that Beijing is claiming.

Duterte agreed to "shelve differences" to make way for a planned joint oil and gas exploration in disputed areas.

In April, the Philippines filed diplomatic protests over China's actions in the West Philippine Sea amid the coronavirus pandemic, but there was no mention of this in the statements released by both sides.

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