Duterte thanks Xi Jinping as China rapes West Philippine Sea amid COVID-19 pandemic

President Rodrigo Duterte expressed anew his thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping for his full support to the Philippines in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his recorded national address late Monday, Duterte also dispelled the rumors that the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19 was made in a laboratory. While it has been a common belief that the virus came from a wet market in Wuhan, other scientists do not discount that it came from laboratories located near the Chinese city. 

“I don’t know if I have to say this but I have a sort of a note from President Xi Jinping expressing his full support for us at this time and citing what we did to help China and of course, to erase the—not really erase—but to counter the malign that they were suffering at early at this stage,” the President said in the televised address.

“So he says that they are ready and I would like to thank President Xi Jinping for his support. At kung galing lang China, wala kayong problems. I think we can have the priority anytime. It’s in the other countries, producing the antibody. But if China catches up with them, eh ‘di okay na,” Duterte added, referring to the COVID-19 antibody.

The President also hinted that he will lift the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) once the antibody becomes available in the country. 

In response to Duterte’s expression of gratitude, Xi reached out to him thanking the Philippine government for fighting the stigma against China brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Duterte’s pro-China remarks meet anti-China sentiments

Meanwhile, Duterte’s pro-China stance got criticisms pointing out the Asian giant’s activities in the South China Sea, particularly in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), while COVID-19 the Philippines and other claimant countries scramble to address the crisis.

While showing diplomacy by donating protective personal equipment (PPE), medical supplies, and medical experts to help the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries to contain COVID-19, China still continues to exploit the natural resources in the disputed waters.

Chinese structures rising in the Spratly Islands.

“If a global pandemic doesn’t cause China to calm things down in the South China Sea there’s not much that will,” said George Poling, executive director of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, at an online forum hosted by Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP). “China’s intent is to overwhelm the region” through its Navy, Coast Guard, and militia fishing fleet, Poling added.

Award-winning writer Ogie Rosa mentioned a report showing Chinese research stations in Spratly Islands, specifically in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) and Zamora (Subi) Reefs. The report came shortly before China donated COVID-19 test kits to the country which the Department of Health (DOH) tagged inaccurate in a briefing.

China now has seven man-made military bases in the Spratly Islands. Chinese presence in the disputed territory results in economic losses, apart from its impact on the environment and Philippine sovereignty.

The Philippines loses about P33.1 billion every year due to the damaged reef ecosystems at the Spratly Islands and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal caused by China’s reclamation activities and illegal fishing operations, according to report released by Inquirer last year. 

Satellite images showed the damaged reef ecosystems at Panatag covered 550ha (hectares) and 1,300ha in the Spratlys group.

Deo Florence Onda, a scientist with the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), said the number of losses was determined using the baseline value of $353,429 (P18 million) per hectare per year for coral reefs that were arrived at in a study by a Dutch information and analytics company.

Vietnam experiences China’s bullying anew

On Tuesday, Vietnam, one of the claimant countries in the South China Sea, also reported that the Chinese survey ship, encountered by Vietnamese vessels last year, has returned to waters covered by Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. 

The Filipino fishing vessel rammed by a Chinese boat last year.

Early this month, a China patrol vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel, similar to the ramming incident of a Chinese fishing vessel versus a Philippine fishing boat. The Chinese trawler abandoned 22 Filipinos struggling in the water before Vietnamese fishermen rescued them.

Addressing the incident, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said last year that the government had been “remiss in its constitutional obligation to protect our marine resources and fisherfolk.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a rare move, recently expressed solidarity with Vietnam but failed to call out China or question the country responsible for the incident.

Betrayal in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic    

China’s unstoppable activity in the South China Sea, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, while the COVID-19 pandemic keeps the Philippines and its neighboring countries like Vietnam busy manifests the Asian giant bully’s deception.

With that, it shows only that China’s diplomacy in the form of PPEs, medical supplies, and other forms of assistance masks its true intent of strengthening dominance in the disputed waters. In the case of Vietnam, China even accused the Vietnamese boat of illegally entering Chinese waters. Do note that the site of engagement involved Paracel Islands which China just seized from Vietnam in 1974.

While President Rodrigo Duterte may express his thanks to Xi Jinping, he and his administration should also keep an eye and secure our sovereignty over our territory. And that includes the West Philippine Sea. And in light of the vast estimated amount of money the country loses every year because of China’s activity in WPS, Duterte may even have the authority to demand the Asian bully to cover our expenses caused by COVID-19.

That might have been the case in an alternate universe. Unfortunately, this is the reality that we have.

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