Philippines Asks U.S. for Vaccine Help as China Tensions Grow

The Philippines will restart military drills with the U.S. on Monday as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to speed up vaccine deliveries from its longtime defense ally.

Amid growing tensions in the South China Sea, more than 1,000 Filipino soldiers and 700 military personnel from the U.S. will participate in the drills, Philippine military chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana told reporters by phone Sunday, adding it’s a smaller group compared to previous exercises, given the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. and Philippine defense secretaries discussed the South China Sea situation and the recent massing of China’s vessels at Whitsun Reef in a phone call on Sunday. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed the importance of continuing the 1998 visiting forces agreement that facilitates joint military exercises between the two countries.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana asked Austin’s assistance to expedite the delivery of the Moderna Inc. vaccines the nation had ordered, a spokesman from the Philippines’ defense department said.

The Philippines is expecting first shipments of Moderna shots next month, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said in a statement Monday. The government and private companies have purchased 20 million doses from Moderna.

Most of the Philippines’ current vaccine supply is from China, with 2.5 million doses from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. already delivered, and another 3 million expected through May.

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