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Japan Enters Taiwan-China Fight With Vaccine Shipments to Taipei

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 6/4/2021 Isabel Reynolds and Samson Ellis
a group of people standing in a room: Vaccinations as Outbreak of Just 23 Cases Sees Rush on Vaccines in Taiwan © Bloomberg Vaccinations as Outbreak of Just 23 Cases Sees Rush on Vaccines in Taiwan

(Bloomberg) -- Japan sent some of its Covid-19 vaccines to Taiwan, which has been struggling to procure its own supplies and blamed China for impeding shipments of the shots.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters Japan provided about 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine free of charge. The shipment arrived on a flight Friday and Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered its appreciation in a statement.

Motegi reiterated that Taiwan has an urgent need for supplies of the vaccine as Covid spreads and domestic production is not set to be ramped up until July. “We decided to provide this based on our important partnership with Taiwan and our friendship,” Motegi said, adding many in Japan remembered that Taiwan was the first to offer support after it was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The shortage amid rising case numbers in Taiwan has raised fears of a health crisis that could hurt its semiconductor production, which is crucial for global industry. Donating the vaccines to Taiwan could irritate China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, which sees the island as part of its territory and has stepped up military exercises in the region in recent months.

World’s Supply of Chips Is in Danger Unless Taiwan Gets Vaccines

The government of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has resisted pressure, both at home and from China, to work with Beijing to obtain Covid-19 vaccines, a politically unpalatable option for officials in Taipei. Tsai and her party have blamed China for scuttling an earlier order of millions of Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shots, although Beijing has rejected the accusation.

China’s Foreign Ministry sidestepped a question about Japan’s role, but lashed out at Taipei. “The Taiwan authorities out of their own selfish political gains have engaged in political manipulation on vaccine issues,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Friday.

Japan approved the AstraZeneca vaccine on May 20 following domestic testing, but put its use on hold because of concerns about rare cases of blood clots. The government has sufficient supplies of other shots to cover its own population and on Wednesday hosted a summit aimed at accelerating global vaccination efforts.

Terry Gou, the founder of iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., is working with Taiwan’s health ministry to negotiate the purchase of BioNTech vaccines, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in a video press conference with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan Thursday. Wu added that Tsai’s administration welcomes any individuals or organizations that want to work with the government to secure vaccines for Taiwan.

Taiwan stands to receive vaccines from the U.S. The administration of President Joe Biden plans to distribute globally 25 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, with 7 million destined for Asia.

Taiwan has so far been unable to directly obtain Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co. 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.

(Updates with vaccine arrival, comment from Chinese official.)

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