MANILA – More Chinese projects in the Philippines are seen to "upgrade" ties between the two nations as both battled the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing's envoy to Manila said Tuesday, despite earlier rejecting Manila's claims over the West Philippine Sea.
Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian reiterated the Philippines will be given priority when China develops a vaccine against COVID-19, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, as he noted both nations "forged closer partnership through anti-COVID-19 cooperation."
Bilateral trade between the two countries reached $19.37 billion from January to May, with China among the Philippines' largest trading partners, Huang said, citing Chinese data.
China's direct investments in the Philippines reached $18.25 million, up 82.5 percent year-on-year, he added.
In the same period, newly signed contracts for Chinese projects in the Philippines amounted to $3.11 billion and completed turnover of $970 million, according to Huang.
China synergized its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with Philippines' "Build, Build, Build" program and the two have been negotiating on a "fast-track" for 2-way essential travel and a “green channel” for smooth flow of goods to ensure the stability of the industrial and supply chains," he said.
Beijing will also strengthen its cooperation with the Philippines in e-commerce, 5G, big data, AI and cloud computing," he added.
"By building a 'Digital Silk Road' and a 'Green Silk Road,' we can not only promote the economic recovery on the basis of transformation and upgrading, but also achieve a high-quality sustainable development, benefiting our two peoples," Huang said.
The Chinese ambassador cited "steady progress" in two bridges it funded in Manila and the Philippines' third telco DITO, which has partnered with China Telecom, spurring security concerns here.
The two nations, along with other BRI partners, are also committed to building a “Health Silk Road," Huang said.
"Since the outbreak, the Philippines has provided valuable support to China and China is also working through various channels to fully support the Philippines’ resistance to the virus, including the timely dispatch of experienced medical experts to Philippines and providing medical materials to the country," he said.
"When the COVID-19 vaccine is developed and put into use, China will give priority to providing it to the Philippines, as a global public good."
Huang's statements came just days after again rejecting the landmark ruling declaring China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea as "illegal and invalid" and warned the US for its "intensified meddling."
Malacañang said it would "agree to disagree" with China on the ruling despite advise to stand firm against the economic giant.
Beijing has continued to ignore Manila's arbitral victory and recently established administrative districts in the disputed South China Sea covering the Paracels and Spratlys as part of Sansha City of Hainan province.
The Philippines calls its exclusive economic zone in the disputed waters the West Philippine Sea.
Manila in April filed diplomatic protests against Beijing's move and said declaring its territory as part of a Chinese province violated international law and Philippine sovereignty. It also protested the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippine waters.
Last year, China sank a Philippine fishing boat near Recto Bank and left its 22 crew at sea, who were then rescued by Vietnamese fishers.