China ‘appreciates’ Duterte’s SONA, vows to prioritize PH for coronavirus vaccines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 29) — The Chinese government lauded President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address, particularly his push for an independent foreign policy and non-confrontational stance on the South China Sea dispute.

In his regular press conference on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Duterte’s policy pronouncements “are in keeping with the fundamental interests of the Philippines, the shared aspiration of regional countries, and the trend of the times for peace and development.”

“We appreciate President Duterte's remarks and stand ready to properly resolve maritime disputes with the Philippines through friendly consultations to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea and the entire region,” Wang said.

He stressed the need to handle maritime issues “properly” to ensure regional peace and stability.

But back home, Duterte is criticized for once again raising and rejecting war as an option in the sea row with China. Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reiterated that the government does not need to resort to arms in asserting the Philippines’ sovereign rights, citing the case of Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia which also have maritime disputes with China.

Beijing rejects the 2016 ruling of an international tribunal in The Hague that favored the Philippines' case against China, invalidating the East Asian giant's sweeping claims to almost the entire South China Sea. Both sides however said they "agreed to disagree" and are setting aside the landmark decision.

READ: PH, China agree to continue ‘friendly consultation’ amid clashing statements on arbitral ruling

Duterte in this year’s State of the Nation Address also reiterated his plea for China to prioritize the Philippines once it develops a vaccine against the coronavirus disease, which has infected more than 16 million people worldwide and killed over 650,000.

On June 12, the 122nd anniversary of the Philippines' Independence Day, Malacañang said that Chinese President Xi Jinping assured Duterte of a priority status once the vaccine is available. This was confirmed by Wang.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and the Philippines have been standing together with mutual assistance, turning anti-epidemic cooperation a new highlight in bilateral relations. The Philippines is a friendly close neighbor and we will give priority to its needs once we succeed in developing a vaccine,” Wang said in his media briefing.

The Philippines is part of the World Health Organization's vaccine trials, but Duterte is counting on the East Asian giant to soon develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

READ: SONA 2020: Duterte offers detours on road to pandemic recovery