The Taiwanese government, led by President Tsai Ing-wen, thanked the U.S. for what it called a “moving gesture of friendship.” But the timely assistance, which comes as Taiwan’s containment efforts are threatened by a vaccine shortage, was met with fresh protests from Beijing.
“We urge the United States not to use vaccine aid as a political maneuver or for interference in China’s internal affairs,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing.
Zhao said China showed “goodwill” to Taiwan and has offered its own vaccines to assist with the island’s outbreak. Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party has obstructed those efforts “for their own selfish political gains,” the spokesperson added.
“The mainland and Taiwan are one family,” Zhao said, noting that Beijing “has made proactive efforts” to help Taipei.
Zhao didn’t reveal whether the Chinese government was pursuing any other avenues to help Taiwan with its vaccine vacuum, such as pushing for speedier fulfillments via the World Health Organization‘s sharing program, COVAX.
Beijing also didn’t address the obstacle of Taiwan’s current legislation, which prohibits importing Chinese-made vaccines and related serum products to the democratic island.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Zhao’s remarks.
Last year, Taiwan placed orders with international vaccine makers including AstraZeneca and Moderna. It also tried for several months to ink a deal with Germany’s BioNTech, whose U.S. partner is Pfizer, but talks fell through in January.
Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung had hinted at political obstruction by China, before President Tsai accused Beijing outright of blocking Taiwan’s procurement efforts in an address to the nation on May 26.
China insists any acquisition of BioNTech vaccines must be done through Shanghai’s Fosun Pharma, which secured distribution rights for the Greater China region—covering China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan
The impasse, coupled with manufacturing and COVAX distribution delays, meant that, before June, Taiwan had only received 876,600 vaccines for a population of more than 23.5 million people. With the addition of 240,000 Moderna doses delivered last Friday, Taiwan to date has only received about 1.1 million of the 19.81 million doses expected from AstraZeneca, Moderna and COVAX.
Taiwan is also expecting a combined 10 million shots from domestic pharmaceutical companies Medigen and United Biomedical, but the former is pending emergency approval and the latter is still in its trial phase.
Japan Donates Vaccines to Taiwan
Sunday’s donation of 2.5 million Moderna vaccines by the U.S. followed Japan‘s gifting of 1.24 million AstraZeneca jabs to Taiwan, which together quadrupled the island’s vaccine stockpile at a crucial time.
Reached by Newsweek on Sunday, the State Department said the donation “demonstrates our close and deepening relationship, and how important this partnership is to us.”
A spokesperson added: “We have had a close partnership with Taiwan on global health issues and have been working together throughout the pandemic. Taiwan was there to help the United States in the earliest days of the pandemic, providing PPE and other life-saving materials. We remain grateful for their generosity, and proud that we are able to support Taiwan in this moment of need.”
On Saturday, before the Moderna vaccines left the U.S., a Biden official told Reuters the jabs were being donated without “political or economic conditions.”
“Our vaccines do not come with strings attached,” the official added, noting that Taipei had “faced unfair challenges in its efforts to acquire vaccines on the global marketplace.”
The White House on Monday announced the second tranche of 55 million American vaccines to be distributed to countries around the world. The first batch of the 80 million total doses had been unveiled on June 3.
Asia, which was allocated 7 million doses in the first tranche, is set to receive 16 million shots. Taiwan remains on the list along with 16 other countries and the 15 Pacific Island nations.
However, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported Tuesday that the self-ruled island was unlikely to receive any more doses, after the U.S. expedited its donations by combining the first and second batches allocated for Taipei—750,000 and 1.75 million doses, respectively.
Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington, told CNA that the U.S. was assessing its allocations based on the developments in each country.