China's COVID-19 vaccines offer meant to 'improve' global reputation – envoy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 14) — China's offer to prioritize the Philippines for COVID-19 vaccine supply still stands, Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana said Monday in what he dubbed as an act of good faith.

"In reality, the Chinese have offered this as part of their campaign to improve China's standing in the world and to win the hearts and minds of people," he added during a public briefing.

Sta. Romana was referring to a July survey from the Social Weather Stations which showed that most Filipinos did not trust China, netting a "bad" score of -36. The same poll showed greater trust towards the United States and Australia.

There were also doubts globally about how China initially handled COVID-19 infections, with reports that they downplayed the first spread that eventually led to a global recession as the pandemic forced lockdowns.

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China, where the first coronavirus outbreak was detected in late 2019, has multiple drug companies working on a vaccine. Sinovac Biotech is ahead of the rest and is expected to be the first to produce and ship doses to the Philippines by early 2021.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. said Sinovac is the priority among other China-made vaccines, although there are still some questions about its efficacy.

Sinovac has not been approved for use abroad, and is awaiting go signal from the Food and Drug Authority to hold phase 3 clinical trials here. However, Sta. Romana said Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccines have been given already to about a million Chinese nationals as well as members of the Chinese army.

Sinovac held clinical trials in other countries like Brazil, Chile, and Indonesia.

"Although anecdotal ang binigay nilang data, what they have announced is walang adverse incident and basically, there were some minor side effects [While the data is still anecdotal, China announced that there are no adverse incidents and basically, there were some minor effects]," the envoy said, citing accounts of pain on the arm where the vaccine was inoculated.

He again stressed that China is not using the vaccines as a bargaining chip.

"The point of this vaccine diplomacy is on the one hand, 'yung pledge nila to make it a global public good... But whether they will make it a condition, such as geopolitics, that has not come up in the discussion," the diplomat said.

"I think the Chinese are very clear that when it comes to the Philippines, we put it on separate tracks... There has been no attempt from the Chinese to link the two together."

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China continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea despite a 2016 arbitration award that junked Beijing's sweeping claims in the disputed waters, including parts of Manila's exclusive economic zone.

Galvez said the Philippines is also in talks with other Chinese vaccine developers such as Sinopharm and CanSino for vaccine supply.