PH-China sea row won’t hamper cooperation vs. Covid-19 – Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed confidence that the Philippines’ apparent conflict with China over Chinese ships’ presence in Julian Felipe Reef would not be a hindrance to the two nations’ cooperation to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

In an online press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte’s stance is to resolve the issues concerning Julian Felipe Reef “through diplomatic channel and through peaceful means”.

Duterte, Roque said, was confident that the ongoing maritime dispute between the two countries would not have an adverse impact on their resolve to help each other in defeating Covid-19.

“Whatever differences we have with China will not define our bilateral relations and will not be an obstacle to the overall positive trajectory of our bilateral friendly relations and our deepening cooperation in pandemic response, including vaccine cooperation and in post-pandemic economic recovery,” Duterte, as quoted by Roque, said.

National Task Force against Covid-19 and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. also echoed Duterte’s position, saying the controversy surrounding Julian Felipe Reef is a “separate” issue.

“The Chinese government is joining us in fighting against Covid-19… Itong issue ng West Philippine Sea ay iba po iyan (The issue on the West Philippine Sea is another issue),” Galvez, who joined Roque at the press conference, said.

Julian Felipe Reef, a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), is located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

The Philippines on March 21 lodged a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of around 200 Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reed in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

China earlier said the spotted Chinese boats off Julian Felipe Reef were merely taking refuge due to rough sea conditions.

However, the Chinese Embassy in Manila on April 3 justified the Chinese vessels’ presence at the Julian Felipe Reef, calling it Niu’e Jiao and part of China’s Nansha Islands.

On Monday night, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a maritime patrol will be conducted anew this week to check whether there are still Chinese ships off Julian Felipe Reed.

Lorenzana’s latest statement came after he recently noted that around 44 Chinese vessels have yet to leave the reef in WPS even if the weather in the vicinity has already improved. PNA.GOV.PH