Duterte, Xi discuss COVID-19 response on eve of Independence Day

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 12) – A day before the country celebrates its 122nd Independence Day, President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation Thursday night on the countries’ mutual COVID-19 response.

According to a statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila, the two leaders recognized that both countries helped each other during the COVID-19 pandemic “demonstrating the brotherly friendship of mutual help.”

"I am glad to see that under your leadership, the Philippines has introduced a series of strong prevention and control measures and achieved positive results," Xi told Duterte during the phone call.

Xi added that Beijing will continue to provide “firm support” to Manila in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan last January.

“China upholds the concept of a community of shared future for mankind, provides funds, experience and confidence for global prevention and control, and extends a helping hand to countries in need,” said Xi.

The Duterte administration has been vocal in thanking Beijing for its support in the country's COVID-19 response, and is even counting on the Asian giant to develop the vaccine against the disease.

Last May 10, China donated 100 ventilators, 150,000 testing kits, 70,000 medical protective suits, 70,000 N95 medical masks, 1.3 million surgical masks and 70,000 medical protective goggles to the Philippine government to aid its fight against the virus.

The Philippines earlier donated surgical face masks, protection suits, medical gloves, sanitation products and goggles to the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his letter addressed to Xi sent last June 9 to mark the 45th anniversary of the Philippines-China diplomatic relations, Duterte called for stronger ties between the two countries amid the global crisis.

READ: Duterte calls for 'further strengthening' of PH-China relations

"We must forge on and ensure that the potential of our special ties is fully realized," Duterte said.

Duterte reiterated that China "is a close neighbor and valued friend," and that the Philippines remains committed "to preserve and build on the gains of our close partnership for greater peace, progress and prosperity for our nations."

Manila and Beijing have been embroiled in a territorial dispute over some islands in the West Philippine Sea, which the latter claims almost its entirety.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration sided with the Philippines in its claims over the West Philippine Sea.

However when Duterte assumed presidency in that year, he agreed to shelve differences with China to pursue joint oil and gas exploration in disputed areas.

Despite the international arbitration ruling, China has been aggressive in reclaiming disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea and turning those into military outposts.

The Duterte government also filed diplomatic protests over China's declaration of two new reclaimed districts called Sansha City in the West Philippine Sea and a Chinese warship's pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy warship last year.