Wednesday, 16 Jun 2021

Japan enters Taiwan-China fight with Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Taipei

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) – Japan is planning later this month to send some of its Covid-19 vaccine to Taiwan, which has been struggling to procure its own supplies and blamed China for impeding shipments of the shots.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Parliament Thursday (June 3) that Taiwan has an urgent need for supplies of the vaccine until July, when its domestic production will be ramped up.

The shortage amid rising case numbers in Taiwan has raised fears of a health crisis that could hurt its semiconductor production, which is crucial for global industry.

“When we’re in trouble, we need to help one another,” Motegi told lawmakers in response to a question about the plan, emphasising that Taiwan had been the first to send aid after Japan suffered a disastrous earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

“We want to make arrangements to supply vaccines from our surplus to countries and regions that don’t have enough now.”

Japan plans to provide about 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as Friday, public broadcaster NHK reported, without giving attribution.

Japan approved the vaccine on May 20 following domestic testing, but put its use on hold because of concern about rare cases of blood clots. The government has sufficient supplies of other shots to cover its own population and Wednesday hosted a summit on accelerating global vaccination efforts.

Offering the vaccines to Taiwan could irritate China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, which sees the island as a renegade breakaway province and has stepped up military exercises in the region in recent months.

Asked about Japan’s plans on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the idea “has drawn doubts from media and the public including in Taiwan.”

He added that “vaccine assistance should be restored to its origin purpose, which is to save lives, and should not be reduced to a tool for selfish political gains.”

Taiwan’s government has resisted pressure, both from at home and from China, to work with Beijing to obtain Covid-19 vaccines, a politically unpalatable option for officials in Taipei.

Terry Gou, the founder of iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, is working with Taiwan’s health ministry to negotiate the purchase of BioNTech vaccines, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in a video press conference with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan Thursday.

Wu added that Tsai’s administration welcomes any individuals or organisations that want to work with the government to secure vaccines for Taiwan.

More on this topic

Taiwan has so far been unable to directly obtain Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group.

The China-based drugmaker, which has an agreement to develop and distribute them in the greater China region that includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, has repeatedly said it wants to supply the BioNTech vaccine to Taiwan.

Tsai and her party have blamed China for scuttling an earlier order of millions of BioNTech shots, although Beijing has rejected the accusation.

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