The donation outlines how geopolitics influences global vaccine rollouts, as countries scramble to secure enough doses for their populations. Autonomous island Taiwan, which is struggling to get enough doses, has accused China of interfering in a possible deal for another vaccine.
Now it is more than doubling its vaccine supply thanks to Japan, which is trying to play a bigger role in global vaccination delivery and accelerating its own slow rollout ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in July.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters on Friday that Japan was responding to Taiwan’s request and that the donation reflects “Japan’s important partnership and friendship with Taiwan”.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen echoed those comments, saying after the Japan Airlines flight landed that “we are once again witnessing true friendship between Taiwan and Japan, built on shared values and mutual help.” “
Neither side mentioned the ongoing feud between Taiwan and China over the island’s efforts to obtain a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
However, given global supply constraints and manufacturing delays, AstraZeneca only had 700,000 doses to vaccinate its population with all shots last month. Japan reportedly considered sending vaccines to Taiwan via COVAX, but decided the process would take too long.
Tsai last month accused China of preventing Taiwan from receiving the Pfizer vaccine through German co-developer BioNTech.
He told members of his Democratic Progressive Party, “We were almost finished with the contract with the German supplier, but because of China’s interference, it is delayed, so as of now we have no way of completing it.” is.”
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung later said that BioNtech had asked Taiwan to change the word “country” in the press release announcing the deal. Taiwan agreed, but the deal is still incomplete.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, opposes calling the island a country. China is also a potentially major market for BioNTech, which has partnered with Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma to manufacture its vaccine in China and distribute it in the mainland and Hong Kong.
Fosun said in an interview with China’s official Xinhua News Agency that it has offered to sell the vaccine to Taiwan. However, Taiwanese law prohibits Chinese-made medical products, including vaccines.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Taiwan’s governing party of preventing mainland Taiwan from sending vaccines and falsely claimed that China had obstructed the purchase of vaccines.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, has also accused China of pressuring at least one country, Paraguay, to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan in exchange for Chinese vaccines.
China maintains that its foreign aid comes without political circumstances, although it has aggressively used its economic power to try to capture some of Taiwan’s remaining allies since Tsai came to power.
Globally, many countries are struggling to obtain vaccines as manufacturers face delays in ramping up production quickly.
Japan, still uncertain with its home-grown vaccines, is completely dependent on foreign ones. It is using Pfizer and Moderna supplements but has no immediate plans to use AstraZeneca, which are produced in Japan under a licensing deal.
At an online vaccine summit this week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged an additional $800 million for the COVAX program, bringing Japan’s total contribution to $1 billion. Tokyo plans to donate 30 million doses of the vaccine produced in Japan to COVAX as well as through other multilateral and bilateral channels.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press video journalist Taising Wu contributed to this report.