Duterte sees Julian Felipe Reef dispute not an obstacle to vaccine cooperation with China
President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed confidence that the territorial dispute, including the recent issue on Julian Felipe Reef, would not affect China's delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
This as China's Sinovac has slashed by half a million doses its vaccine delivery this April, National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said in a televised press briefing on Tuesday.
Forty four Chinese vessels remain at the Julian Felipe Reef despite calls by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for them to leave.
"This April, we're really seeing difficulty in the supply. Even China where we ordered almost 2 million (vaccine doses) has reduced our order to 1.5 million (doses) because China also really needs (the vaccines)," he said.
Thus, instead of receiving about four million doses for this month coming not only from China but from other sources, "there's a slippage of almost only 2 million that we will receive," he said.
For next month, Galvez said they also expect a tight supply of vaccines.
"We are expecting an easing up of supply once vaccinations in four huge countries in Europe, the US, China, as well as India and UK, are complete," he said, noting these are the largest producers of COVID-19 vaccines but they have adopted the policy of prioritizing their people.
Asked if the Julian Felipe Reef issue would affect the deliveries of vaccines from China, Galvez said, "This is a separate issue. The Chinese government is joining us in fighting against COVID-19. It's a fight for humanity and the West Philippine Sea issue is really a different issue."
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in the same press briefing, also insisted that the West Philippine Sea issue is different from vaccination.
Reading Duterte's official statement, Roque said, "We will continue to resolve the issues on Julian Felipe through diplomatic channels and through peaceful means."
"Whatever differences we have with China will not define our bilateral relations. It will not be an obstacle to the overall positive trajectory of our bilateral friendly relations and our deepening cooperation pandemic response, including vaccine cooperation and in post pandemic economic recovery," he stressed.
The Philippines has been demanding China to remove all the fishing vessels, allegedly manned by Chinese militia personnel, near Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Celerina Monte/DMS