Japan, US Look Set to Supply Vaccines to Democratic Taiwan

Taiwan's attempts to procure vaccines amid a rising wave of COVID-19 transmission has been stymied by Beijing.
Japan, US Look Set to Supply Vaccines to Democratic Taiwan Su Tseng-chang, President of Taiwan's Executive Yuan, says Taiwan will be grateful for any COVID-19 vaccines it receives, June 3, 2021.
Taiwan Executive Yuan

The Japanese government is making final arrangements to provide Taiwan with about 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday, citing government sources, while the country will likely receive an allocation of U.S.-made jabs via the COVAX sharing scheme.

"There is an urgent need for Taiwan (to procure vaccine) until it can establish a domestic production system in July," foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in parliament earlier in the day.

Japan could supply the doses possibly on Friday, Kyodo reported.

"At a time of trouble, we need to help each other," Motegi told lawmakers, adding that Taiwan had responded rapidly with donations in 2011 after northeastern Japan was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government is making "final" preparations to supply the vaccine to Taiwan, Kyodo reported.

In Washington, former Trump-era defense official Randall Schriver called on President Joe Biden to make some of the 80 million U.S. vaccines earmarked for export available to Taiwan.

"The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is jeopardizing Taiwan’s public health for its authoritarian political objectives," Schriver said in a statement.

"The CCP has aggressively sought to thwart Taiwan’s vaccine efforts. From late-stage meddling of vaccine purchasing contracts to condemnation of allies’ offers of assistance, it is likely these efforts will continue," he said.

Community transmission has skyrocketed in Taiwan at a time when less than two percent of the population has received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Taiwan has secured less than one million doses of vaccines for its 24 million citizens, receiving 726,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine via the COVAX sharing scheme and directly from the manufacturer.

Taiwan now in talks

The government is in talks with Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson, in addition to the Moderna and AstraZeneca jabs Taiwan is already deploying, foreign minister Joseph Wu told reporters.

Wu said his government is "negotiating with individual companies like Pfizer" and J&J, ahead of the planned rollout of the island's homegrown COVID-19 vaccines in July.

"When and if our own vaccines are rolled out toward the end of July, I think this will become the most important supply for the vaccine demand here in Taiwan," Wu said.

Last week, president Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking its attempts to sign a deal for the supply of vaccines from BioNTech of Germany.

"We had almost completed the contract signing with the German manufacturer at one point, but it has been delayed till now because China has interfered," Tsai told a meeting of her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on May 26.

Political pressure from China

Health and welfare minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters that the BioNTech deal collapsed after the company introduced a requirement that Taiwan drop the use of the word "country" to describe itself, a requirement likely linked to political pressure from China.

Chen Shih-chung said Taiwan seems headed for a new peak in COVID-19 cases, reporting 585 new infections and 17 deaths from the disease on June 3.

Of the 585 cases, 583 were classified as domestic infections -- with 364 newly confirmed and 219 reported from a backlog of test results over the past two weeks, local media reported.

He said that the percentage of COVID-19 patients in the 20-39 age group has climbed from 19.9 percent to 25.2 percent in the past two days.

"We cannot afford to be overly optimistic now," Chen told a news briefing in Taipei.

The White House announced on Thursday the allocation of 25 million doses of vaccine, to include seven million destined for India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, and the Pacific Islands.  

Meanwhile, large numbers of overseas Taiwanese who returned to the island as it appeared to have escaped the pandemic last year are now heading back to the U.S. to get vaccinated, local media reported.

Airlines in Taiwan said 2,400 more Taiwanese passengers flew to the U.S. in May, when the wave of community transmissions began, than in the previous month, according to FTV News.

Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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