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Philippines seeking US clarification on anti-vax propaganda operation

MANILA — The Philippines is still seeking clarification from the Pentagon about a secret US propaganda operation that aimed to cast doubt among Filipinos about Chinese vaccines at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a foreign ministry official said on June 25.

A Reuters investigation on June 14 detailed how the Pentagon ran a clandestine influence campaign in 2020 and 2021 to denigrate the Sinovac vaccine and other pandemic aid from China across the developing world.

The effort was intended to counter what Washington then saw as China's growing geopolitical sway around the globe, including in South-east Asia. It began under former President Donald Trump and ended months after President Joseph Biden took office.

"We have not received an official and formal response yet on any confirmation, denial or anything. We are waiting on that. We continue to monitor and ask for information," Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Jose Victor Chan-Gonzaga told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is investigating the US information campaign.

As soon as the Reuters article came out, Chan-Gonzaga said the foreign ministry had contacted the US embassy in Manila through "our regular consultations mechanism" but had been referred to the US Defence Department.

Contacted for further comment on June 25, the US embassy also referred Reuters to the US Defence Department.

A senior Defence Department official cited by Reuters in the June 14 report acknowledged that the US military had engaged in secret propaganda to disparage China's vaccine in the developing world, but declined to provide details.

Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, described the US military campaign as "evil, wicked, dangerous, unethical."