Japan Mulls Offering AstraZeneca Vaccine to Taiwan, Paper Says

Japan is considering offering some of its supply of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine to neighboring Taiwan, which has struggled to secure its own shots, the Sankei newspaper said Friday, citing government sources.

A spokesman for Taiwan’s Presidential Office indicated such an offer would be welcomed, if confirmed, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the report. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters he wouldn’t comment on requests from individual countries.

Japan approved the vaccine on May 20 following domestic testing, but put its use on hold because of concern about rare cases of blood clots. The government has sufficient supplies of other shots to cover its own population, and is set to host an international summit next month on accelerating global vaccination efforts.

Offering 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. It could also help secure supplies of semiconductors to Japanese and global industry, as Taiwan’s latest virus outbreak threatened to worsen shortages.

“Taiwan has many friends in Japan doing their best to help Taiwan in various ways,” Presidential Office spokesman Chang Tun-han said in a radio interview Friday morning. “If there is any good news, we will announce it after it’s confirmed.”

Lawmaker Kuo Kuo-wen of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said on Facebook that Taiwan should seek to buy the AstraZeneca shots from Japan.

When asked about the Sankei report at a regular press briefing Friday in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “Taiwan’s channel to acquire vaccines from China’s mainland is smooth and open.”

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration this week ruled out efforts by local officials to obtain the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine from a China-based drugmaker, saying the central government would handle vaccine procurement. Her government has accused Beijing of derailing its procurement plans, but has come under pressure to work with China on vaccine supply, amid the worst outbreak since the pandemic began.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga this week underscored the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait in a joint statement issued with European leaders. Similar wording was included in a statement with U.S. President Joe Biden last month, sparking criticism from China.

Japan’s offer to Taiwan could be made through Covax, an initiative that aims to guarantee fair access to vaccines for every country in the world. Tokyo is set to host the Gavi Covax Advance Market Commitment Summit on Wednesday, with the aim of securing at least $8.3 billion for global vaccinations.

The Japanese government has sealed contracts for 120 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 60 million people. Taiwan has a population of about 23.5 million.

While Japan has sufficient vaccine supplies, its domestic rollout has been slow, with 10.6 million doses administered to its 126 million people as of Wednesday, according to the prime minister’s office.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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