On Saturday, the United States sent 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan, more than doubling Washington’s previous distribution of injections for the island, which has been under increased political and military pressure from China.
Washington, battling with Beijing for geopolitical power through so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” first planned to contribute 750,000 doses to Taiwan, but upped that figure as President Joe Biden’s administration moves through with its vow to deliver 80 million U.S.-made injections around the world.
China, which considers Taiwan an integral part of its territory, has repeatedly offered to send coronavirus vaccines to the island, which has been battling a spike in domestic infections. Taipei has expressed concern about the safety of Chinese shots.
The 2.5 million donated doses of the Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) vaccine were set to leave Memphis, Tennessee, on a flight belonging to Taiwan’s China Airlines early on Saturday and arrive in Taipei on Sunday evening, a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters, noting that the prompt delivery was due to experts from both sides being able to work out regulatory issues.
State Department spokesman Ned Price later tweeted that the plane carrying the vaccines had departed.
“We are not allocating these doses, or delivering these doses, based on political or economic conditions. We are donating these vaccines with the singular objective of saving lives,” the senior official said.
“Our vaccines do not come with strings attached,” the official said, adding Taiwan had “faced unfair challenges in its efforts to acquire vaccines on the global marketplace.”
A deal for Taiwan to purchase vaccines from Germany’s BioNTech SE (22UAy.DE) fell through this year, with Taiwan’s government blaming pressure from Beijing.
China has denied the accusation, saying Taiwan is free to obtain the vaccines through Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd (600196.SS), which has a contract to sell BioNTech’s vaccine in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Workers transport Moderna vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to Taiwan Air cargo Terminal in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
“We believe that these attempts by China to block purchases, for political purposes, are reprehensible,” the senior Biden administration official said.
Taiwan is trying to speed up the arrival of the millions of vaccines it has on order, although infections remain comparatively low despite a rise in domestic cases. Only around 6% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one shot of a vaccine regimen.
The U.S. shipment comes at a time when Washington has been working with Taipei to create secure supply chains for strategic items such as computer chips, of which Taiwan is a key producer, that are vital for U.S. automobile manufacturers and other industries.
It also comes after Taiwan announced on Friday that it will allow Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Taiwan’s Foxconn (2317.TW) and semiconductor giant TSMC (2330.TW), to negotiate on its behalf for COVID-19 vaccines.
Taiwan Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang said Washington’s assistance with vaccines confirmed the “rock-solid friendship between Taiwan and the United States.”
Jonathan Fritz, a senior State Department official, said on Thursday that China had been “very aggressively using vaccine donations as a lever to induce more of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners to switch recognition.”
Beijing has progressively reduced the number of diplomatic supporters of Taiwan, which today stands at only 15 nations.
The United States, which, like other nations, has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, has watched the escalation of tensions with Beijing with concern, and Biden’s administration has promised to strengthen ties with the island, which it is obligated by law to supply with defensive equipment.
Taiwan claimed earlier this week the biggest intrusion within its air defence identification zone by China’s air force, which included fighters and nuclear-capable bombers.