China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi came to Manila bearing gifts, promising half a million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, US$1.34 billion in loan pledges for infrastructure projects and US$77 million (500 million yuan) in grants, underlining Beijing’s support for its “closest neighbour” in the twilight of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and before Joe Biden becomes US president next week.
“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,” Wang said in Mandarin ahead of talks with Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr.
Locsin thanked Wang for the vaccines but also made reference to the South China Sea dispute. According to a transcript of the meeting released by Locsin’s office, Locsin told Wang: “It behoves us to show our ability to rise to the challenge of managing differences peacefully and in accordance with law, while making headway towards trust-building and practical concrete mutually beneficial cooperation.”
Wang also had a 40-minute meeting with Duterte, who stressed China would play a key role in the Philippines’ economic recovery. Once the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia, the Philippines plunged into recession last year during the pandemic, which prompted one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns.