Duterte: Julian Felipe Reef row won’t affect vaccine cooperation with China
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has remained confident that “whatever differences we have with China will not define our bilateral relations” and will not affect Manila’s vaccine cooperation with Beijing.
Quoting an official statement from Duterte during an online briefing on Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said: “We will continue to resolve the issues on Julian Felipe through diplomatic channels and peaceful means.”
“Whatever differences we have with China will not define our bilateral relations and it will not be an obstacle to the overall positive trajectory of our bilateral friendly relations and our deepening cooperation in the pandemic response, including vaccine cooperation and in post-pandemic economic recovery.”
On Monday, the Palace said Duterte is counting on the now closer ties between the Philippines and China to be able to peacefully resolve the latest impasse involving hundreds of Chinese vessels stationed at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
The country’s vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. likewise said the issue in the West Philippine Sea is separate from the country’s cooperation with China in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Separate po iyang issue na ‘yan. The Chinese government is joining us in fighting against COVID-19. It’s a fight of humanity. And talaga namang itong issue ng West Philippine Sea, iba po ‘yan,” he said in the same briefing.
(These issues are separate. The Chinese government is joining us in fighting against COVID-19. It’s a fight of mankind. This issue in the West Philippine Sea is different.)
But an alter ego of Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, has been demanding the Chinese government to withdraw its vessels from Julian Felipe Reef, as he believes that the boats carry Chinese militias and not just fishermen seeking shelter in the area as claimed by Beijing.
For China, however, the reef was part of its Nansha Islands which, it claimed, has been a “traditional fishing ground” for many years.
Consequently, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs has warned China that it risks facing a diplomatic protest every day it fails to withdraw its vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
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