President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping pose for posterity prior to the start of the bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 25, 2019. KING RODRIGUEZ/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Malacañang on Monday said the chances of China using its Covid-19 vaccines to press countries on geopolitical issues like the South China Sea dispute were “almost nil” as it downplayed suggestions of a Singapore think tank.

The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies-Yusof Ishak Institute earlier warned that China could use its vaccine diplomacy as a weapon to gain the upper hand on certain issues.

“China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ is not unconditional,” Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia and Klaus Heinrich Raditio said in a paper published by 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,” they added.

But Palace spokesman Harry Roque said there was no need for Filipinos to be concerned over the think tank’s warnings as the Philippine government has close ties with China.

“Anong pressure ang ia-apply ng Tsina sa atin? Ang ating polisiya po ay pagkakaibigan sa lahat at wala tayong kalaban… independent foreign policy. And [President Rodrgo Duterte] in fact shares many values with the leadership of China including personal friendship with President Xi,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.

“So I think, the possibility of using the vaccine as pressure as far as the Philippines is concerned is almost nil,” Duterte’s spokesman added.

The country’s envoy to China also downplayed fears of China’s vaccine being used as a political tool, saying its vaccine diplomacy was part of a campaign to polish China’s reputation.

“In reality, I think the Chinese have offered this, you know, it’s part of their campaign to improve China’s standing in the world and to win the hearts and minds of people. As you know, iyong rating ng China, for example in the Philippines, when it comes to trustworthiness is quite low,” Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Santa Romana said in the same briefing.

The envoy also cited a September 2019 Social Weather Stations survey. which found that 54 percent of Filipinos had “little” trust in China.

But even if China used its vaccines to put pressure on the Philippines on geopolitical issues, Santa Romana claimed that the Philippines would not be influenced.

“Whether they’ll make it as a condition sa geopolitics, that has not come up in any discussion. And I think the Chinese are very clear that when it comes sa Philippines, we put it on separate tracks. Where we have differences, we discuss it. But if you’re going to us one to press on the other, that will certainly not work under this current administration,” he said.

According to Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., the country aims to secure 25 million doses of China’s Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines within this week. John Ezekiel J. Hirro