Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte rejected on Thursday Taiwan’s appeal to lift a ban on its citizens visiting the country, saying his primary concern was the safety of Filipinos.
Taiwan said it was considering countermeasures if the Philippines did not lift the ban it imposed this week to contain the spread of the coronavirus, but Duterte said the restriction stays “until the danger persists”.
“My primary concern is the health and safety of our countrymen”, Duterte was quoted by his spokesman, Salvador Panelo, as saying.
Taiwan is governed entirely separately from China, but Beijing claims the island as its own and the World Health Organization (WHO) clubs its virus cases in the category for China, which has led some countries to impose the same restrictions on Taiwanese as on Chinese citizens.
More than 115,000 Philippine citizens live and work in Taiwan, mainly in factories and employed as household help.
The Philippines’ decision to include Taiwan as part of a ban on people from China visiting the country had “nothing to do with” the One China policy, Panelo said, quoting Duterte.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told reporters in Taipei that Taiwan had a planned response if the Philippines maintained its ban, but she declined to elaborate, saying a decision was awaited from the Philippines government.
“We will continue to communicate with the Philippines and explain that this is a one-sided and wrong decision by the Philippines’ health ministry, which has already affected the relationship between the two countries of Taiwan and the Philippines,” Ou said.
Taiwan and the Philippines have close economic and cultural ties, but no formal diplomatic relations, as the Philippines, like most countries, only recognises the government in Beijing, and not in Taipei.
Taiwan has repeatedly complained that, with its 18 virus cases compared with some 60,000 in China, it is unfair for the WHO to lump them together with China and mislead other countries into believing Taiwan faces an equally dire epidemic.