Despite COVID-19 vaccines shortage, Taiwan continues to refuse China’s help


Taipei : Despite Taiwan grappling with a worsening COVID-19 situation and shortage of vaccines, the self-governing island has refused to accept help from China, which claims the island as one of its territories.

Until recently, Taiwan had averted a COVID-19 catastrophe and was held up as a model over its management of the health crisis. In 2020, as countries around the world entered a cycle of lockdowns, the people of Taiwan were out in restaurants, shops and cultural venues, according to France24.

However, the situation sharply deteriorated in April this year when a sudden surge of infections was traced to a group of airline pilots who unknowingly brought the ‘Alpha’ variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, to the island.
For the first time since the pandemic began last year, the Taiwanese have been under a semi-lockdown, while public places, including schools and universities, are closed and gatherings are prohibited.

The country is now lagging behind in terms of COVID-19 vaccinations as the inoculation programme launched in March has been moving at a snail’s pace. A mere 3.36 per cent of the total population has received a first dose of the vaccine.

In this situation, China has offered its own vaccines to Taiwan and invited the Taiwanese to the mainland to get inoculated earlier this month. However, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has categorically refused the offer, believing it would come with strings attached and a way of Beijing to establish its predominance over the island-nation, reported France24.
Taiwan has also accused China of being partly responsible for the archipelago’s difficulties in obtaining vaccines and instead of negotiating with Beijing, the island wants to deal directly with manufacturers, notably the American and German companies behind the Pfizer-BioNTech. However, these attempts have systematically failed.

“Pfizer has signed a ‘Greater China’ distribution contract with Beijing, which includes Taiwan. So it is very likely that these new negotiations will be blocked by China,” said economist Hubert Testard.

“Taiwan’s access to vaccines continues to be slowed down by Chinese interference,” said Taiwanese presidential spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka on Twitter in May after negotiations for vaccine supplies with BioNTech failed.
Taiwan has also faced tough questions from the opposition over the refusal of accepting Chinese vaccines. But the government has called into question the effectiveness and safety of the Chinese vaccines.

However, the issue has now taken a geopolitical turn, with Taipei’s allies coming to the island’s aid as Japan recently announced that it would send a million vaccines to Taiwan, reported France24.

“Taiwan and Tokyo share the values of freedom and democracy,” said the Japanese foreign minister, in a move that provoked the ire of Beijing.

Moreover, three American senators announced the distribution of 750,000 vaccines while on a diplomatic visit to Taiwan. “We are seeing a situation of increased rivalry between China and the United States. This announcement by Washington is eminently political. More than just providing aid, it is clearly about undermining Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy,” said Testard.
The economist said that Taiwan should be able to continue the distribution of doses without Chinese vaccines and the campaign is likely to gain momentum.
Amid China’s pressure to block access to the COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan, former US assistant secretary of defense on Wednesday had said the Biden administration’s plan to donate COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide should include Taiwan.