Taiwan faces more pressure to work with China to secure vaccines

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) – Taiwan’s government faces mounting pressure to work with China to obtain Covid-19 vaccines, a politically unpalatable option for officials in Taipei struggling with an outbreak that risks disrupting tech supply chains.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration this week ruled out attempts by some local officials to directly obtain Pfizer-BioNTech SE 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.

Ms Tsai and her party have blamed China for scuttling an earlier order of millions of BioNTech jabs, although Beijing has rejected that claim.

Mr Chen Tsung-yen, a member of Ms Tsai’s cabinet and deputy head of the Central Epidemic Control Center, said the central government would continue to helm the vaccine drive, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

“We reject outside interference in our work to bring vaccines to Taiwan, & oppose attempts to exploit vaccine supply for political purposes,” Ms Tsai said in a tweet on Wednesday (May 26) evening.

Ms Tsai, who was re-elected in a landslide last year after taking a strong stance against China’s interference in Hong Kong, has seen her approval rating dip below 50 per cent for the first time in a year in the wake of Taiwan’s worst outbreak during the pandemic.

After months with zero daily Covid cases, health authorities in Taipei are now grappling with more than 500 cases a day along with growing criticism for being complacent with a vaccination drive.

While the Biden administration has said it will donate tens of millions of spare vaccine doses following a successful vaccination drive at home, it’s unclear how many – if any – might be sent to Taiwan as more deadly outbreaks occur in places like India.

A senior Taiwanese official in the US last week called for the world to send vaccines to avoid more chip shortages from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and other companies.

On Wednesday, a Chinese official criticized Ms Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party for blocking the entry of a mainland company’s Covid shot.

“Covid-19 is rapidly spreading in Taiwan, but the DPP authorities are still turning a blind eye to the shortfall of vaccines and to the expectation of Taiwan people,” said Ms Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

“They not only block Taiwan people from using mainland-made vaccines with various excuses, but also obstruct vaccines represented by a mainland company from entering Taiwan.”

Fosun Pharma has long said it hoped to provide Taiwan with vaccines.

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In an interview with Bloomberg News in March, Mr Guo Guangchang, chairman of the Chinese drugmaker’s parent company Fosun International, said the company “has the responsibility, duty and willingness to offer the best vaccine to the Greater China region, including Taiwan”.

Fosun Pharma’s CEO Wu Yifang told China’s official Xinhua News Agency this week that the company has actively pushed to provide the vaccine to Taiwan through multiple channels going back to last year.

The government in Taipei views Taiwan as a de-facto sovereign nation, even while it avoids a formal declaration of independence that could trigger a war.

China, meanwhile, claims the set of islands as its own territory and hopes for “reunification” – a term disputed in Taiwan.

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