China to donate 400,000 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Duterte says

China to donate 400,000 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Duterte says
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte inspects a vial of the Covid-19 vaccine CoronaVac after the ceremonial turnover at the Bulwagang Kalayaan in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City on February 28, 2021.

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday that China will be donating 400,000 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines on top of its earlier donation of 600,000 doses of CoronaVac developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

“China will give us another 400 [thousand doses,] making their donation to their country 1 million [doses,]” Duterte said in a speech at the inauguration of school buildings in Valenzuela City.

Duterte did not say from which vaccine maker the shots from China would come from, although a shipment of 600,000 doses of CoronaVac arrived in the Philippines last Monday, making them the first coronavirus vaccines to arrive in the country.

Aside from the donations, the Philippines is also buying 1 milion doses of CoronaVac under a P700-million purchase deal.

Apart from Sinovac, Chinese state-owned drugmaker China National Pharmaceutical Group Corp., Ltd. (Sinopharm) has also developed a coronavirus vaccine.

Only Sinovac’s CoronaVac has been authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, while Sinopharm’s jab is still being reviewed by the drug regulator.

There have been some fears, particularly from opposition lawmakers, that China is deploying vaccine diplomacy, or using its access to vaccines to force countries to bend to its will.

Top government officials have downplayed these concerns, with Malacañang even saying that the donations would not affect the country’s territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.

China considers the West Philippine Sea, or the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, as part of its territory despite a 2016 arbitral ruling that held that its territorial claims in the area have no legal basis.

It also passed in January a new law that allows Chinese coast guard to fire at foreign vessels and demolish structures built on contested islands, which prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to lodge a diplomatic protest and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to increase its naval presence in the West Philippine Sea.

During the course of his administration, Duterte has made a remarkable pivot to China, warming up ties with the Asian giant.

He has also made clear his preference for Chinese vaccines, especially for the still-unauthorized Sinopharm jabs.

Smuggled Sinopharm vaccines were used to inoculate members of Duterte’s security group. Former special envoy to China Ramon Tulfo said he and other top government officials have had themselves inoculated with these same illegal shots. — with a report from Bella Perez-Rubio

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