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Duterte calls China 'benefactor,' distances himself from foreign minister's remarks

Philippines in negotiations for 4 million monthly Sinovac doses

 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte described China as a benefactor to his nation in a recorded briefing on Monday (May 3), minimizing remarks made by his foreign minister earlier amid a dispute with China over contested waters.

"China remains our benefactor," Duterte said. "Just because we have a conflict with China doesn't mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful."

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin had earlier on Monday tweeted colorful criticisms of China over the lingering presence of Chinese ships inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ):

Taking an abruptly gentler tone in a later post, Locsin apologized to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅), tweeting, "I'm sorry for hurting his feelings but his alone. It's been my elusive dream to copy until I attain in mind and manner the elegance of Wang Yi."

The Chinese foreign ministry has in recent weeks asserted that the alleged fishing vessels near disputed Whitsun reef, at one point numbering over 200, have been merely waiting out rough seas. The Philippines, the U.S., and others have expressed concern the boats are part of China's maritime militia and seek to occupy contested features in the South China Sea.

The Southeast Asian country is currently negotiating for the monthly delivery of up to 4 million doses of China's Sinovac vaccine as well as 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V, according to the Straits Times. The first shipments of both are expected to arrive this month.