MANILA (REUTERS, AFP) - China promised on Saturday (Jan 16) to donate 500,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines as the two countries signed infrastructure deals aimed at boosting post-pandemic recovery efforts, officials said.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in March imposed one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns to contain the virus, grounding to a halt what was one of Asia's fastest-growing economies before the pandemic.
"As a friend of the Philippines and your closest neighbour, we will firmly stand with the people of the Philippines until the defeat of this virus," senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said during a meeting with the Philippines’ foreign minister.
Mr Wang’s talks in Manila wrapped up a week-long visit to four South-east Asian nations.
Since taking office in 2016, Mr Duterte has pursued warmer ties with China, setting aside a territorial spat in exchange for pledges of aid, loans and grants.
"China plays a very key role in reviving our region’s economy," he said on Saturday. "Let us do all we can to revive economic activities between the Philippines and China."
It is not clear which vaccine China will donate, and whether the 500,000 vaccine doses to be donated is part of that earlier deal; the Chinese embassy in Manila did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.
The news follows similar announcements from other countries in the region earlier this week – Cambodia said it would receive one million free doses from Beijing on Friday, after Myanmar was set to get 300,000.
With nearly 499,000 cases and almost 9,900 deaths, the Philippines has the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections and casualties in South-east Asia, after Indonesia. But Manila has trailed neighbouring countries in securing vaccines.
Philippines' foreign minister, Mr Teodoro Locsin, said close cooperation to beat the pandemic enhanced ties and deepened the friendship between the two nations, adding that collaborative work on economic and infrastructure projects had resumed.
Mr Duterte has said he prefers to source Covid-19 vaccines from either China or Russia, and the country is buying 25 million doses of Sinovac Biotech's experimental Covid-19 vaccine, with the first 50,000 expected to arrive in February.
Officials of the two countries on Saturday signed an agreement for a 500 million yuan (S$102 million) grant from China to fund the Philippines' livelihood, infrastructure and other projects.
They also signed the commercial contract for a US$940 million (S$1.25 billion), 71km railway scheme north of the capital, Beijing’s ambassador to Manila said in a statement.