CHINA VISIT. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and People's Republic of China President Xi Jinping pose for posterity before the start of the bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 25, 2019. Malacañang on Wednesday (March 3) said Duterte might visit China before his term ends in June 2022. (Presidential photo by King Rodriguez)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte might visit China before his term ends to personally thank Chinese President Xi Jinping for the 600,000 doses of Sinovac-made CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccines donated to the Philippines, Malacañang said on Wednesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this clarification after Duterte, in a speech on Sunday, said he intends to visit Beijing “maybe at the end of the year when everything has settled down.”

Roque admitted that he was unsure of what the President meant, but assumed that it would be before Duterte steps down in June 2022.

“Hindi po natin alam pero siguro po bago matapos ang termino sa 2022 (We don’t know but perhaps before his term ends in 2022),” Roque said in a radio interview.

He said Duterte was really determined to express gratitude to Xi, noting that the Philippines and China continue to have a strong bilateral relationship during his term.

“Siyempre, bago siya magpaalam sa government service eh nais din nga niyang makarating ng Tsina para magpasalamat po kay President Xi (Of course, before he says goodbye to government service, he wants to visit China and thank President Xi),” he said.

On Sunday, the Philippines welcomed China’s donated 600,000 doses of Sinovac-made CoronaVac vaccines, the first vaccines to arrive in the country.

Duterte attended the arrival ceremony for the vaccines which are meant for frontline medical workers and uniformed personnel.

In his speech, Duterte told Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian that he wanted to thank Xi for making possible the delivery of the first Covid-19 vaccine doses to the country.

"Mr. Ambassador, I’d like to just say that towards the -- maybe at the end of the year, when everything has settled down -- I intend to make a short visit to China to just shake hands with President Xi Jinping and to personally thank him for this donation. Thank you," he said in a speech during the arrival ceremony of the Sinovac-made vaccines at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

Duterte later told reporters that he wanted to visit Xiamen, before Beijing, to see the school building that was built in honor of his late mother.

"Maybe I’ll go to Xiamen. There’s a school built to honor my mother. You know, my mother was one of the first educators of the Chinese school in Davao," he said.

He described China’s vaccine donation as a “gesture of friendship and solidarity”, which to him is the hallmark of the Philippine-China partnership.

He also noted that the Philippines is the only country to have the privilege of having the Covid-19 vaccine doses delivered instead of having to pick up the supply from China.

Should his planned trip pushes through, it will be the sixth trip of Duterte to China since he was elected president in 2016.

Duterte’s last trip to China was in August 2019. It was where he invoked the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling rejecting China’s claim on the West Philippine Sea. (PNA)