Setting aside our sea rights just for ineffective Sinovac

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2021 - 12:00am

Only Malacañang may procure any COVID-19 serum. Filipinos are locked in to Sinovac. A deal has been sealed for 25 million doses of the Chinese vaccine. First 50,000 delivery is next month. No other inoculant is arriving till July so don’t be picky, says Palace spokesman Harry Roque. Yet doubts remain on safety and efficacy. Pricing is hazy. And indications are to stomach China’s sea incursions just to get the supplies.

“Our differences in the West Philippine Sea should be set aside because this is a global pandemic, and our problem is a global menace.” So declared vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez at the Senate last Friday. “The global interest is to save humanity,” the former Armed Forces chief said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros was shocked. She had asked Galvez what effect the preference for a Chinese vaccine has on Philippine strategic interests. Beijing foreign minister Wang Yi had zipped through Southeast Asia the other week in “vaccine diplomacy.” Donation of 500,000 vials was announced to Manila. There was a quid pro quo after all, Hontiveros noted.

Galvez quickly backpedalled. “We would like to make a clarification,” he said. “We will not compromise on our state.”

It wasn’t very reassuring. Galvez has contradicted himself several times under oath, senators said. He described the Sinovac deal as government-to-government. Yet he negotiated with the company’s international relations rep Helen Yang in Hong Kong. He stated that Sinovac has committed to deliver starting February. But when reminded that it has yet no emergency use authority, he said Malacañang can still back out.

Senator Panfilo Lacson questioned the five-month headway granted to Sinovac. Galvez denied any favoritism. Yet Foreign Sec. Teddy Locsin said “someone dropped the ball on Pfizer in July.” The US State Department had arranged for 10 million doses of the vaccine with 95 percent efficacy. The DOH dilly-dallied on processing the papers; the US firm diverted the stocks to Singapore. Roque meanwhile told reporters Sinovac was a done deal.

Beijing is deftly transactional. In 2016 it promised Manila $40 billion in infrastructure loans and aid. President Duterte shelved the Philippines’ international arbitral victory against China’s reef grabbing. Beijing fulfilled only less than a tenth of that. Now it is dangling free vaccines for Malacañang’s continued acquiescence.

Chinese vaccine diplomacy “is not unconditional,” analysts wrote this month for Singapore’s Yusof Ishak Institute. “Beijing may use its vaccine donations to advance its regional agenda, particularly on sensitive issues such as its claims in the South China Sea,” Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia and Klaus Heinrich Raditio said.

Philippine Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana saw an imaging opportunity for Beijing. “It’s part of their campaign to improve China’s standing in the world, and to win the hearts and minds of people.”

Minister Wang’s vaccine promotional tour included South Asia. It was to show supposed benevolence to neighbor-states that China has antagonized. Premier Li Keqiang similarly promised priority vaccine access to countries along the Mekong River suffering from drought worsened by Chinese dams upstream.

A senior fellow at Washington think-tank Council on Foreign Relations earlier studied Beijing’s moves. “President Xi Jinping’s offer of a Chinese vaccine worldwide as a ‘public good’ also allows Beijing to paint itself as a leader in global health,” said Huang Yanzhong.

Hong Kong brokerage firm Essence Securities saw profit potentials as well for China. If China can capture just 15 percent of the market in middle- and low-income countries, it would net around $2.8 billion in sales, the group said. “Everyone is clamoring for a vaccine and Beijing is in a good position to tap gold at the bottom of the pyramid.”

The solid gold would be if Manila clams up on intensified maritime encroachment. A new Chinese law authorizes its Coast Guard to board and fire at vessels in its “jurisdictional waters.” That means the entire South China Sea which it illegally claims. Covered is the West Philippine Sea, the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of rich fishing grounds and oil-and-gas resources.

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity.” Simply subscribe to my newsletter at https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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