China Blasts Suggestion It Blocked Taiwan Vaccine Purchase

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China’s government hit back at a suggestion by Taiwan’s health minister that it used political pressure to derail a planned purchase of Covid-19 vaccines by the island country.

Taiwan’s government “should stop hyping up political issues under the pretext of vaccine issues,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing in Beijing on Thursday, where she did not explicitly deny that China had interfered in the deal.

Taiwan’s government was making final preparations to sign a contract for five million vaccine doses with Germany’s BioNTech SE in January, but then “things changed,” Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said in an interview on radio station Hit FM on Wednesday. “We believe there was political pressure,” said Chen, who didn’t explicitly name China, but rather “external forces.”

Chen also said that Taiwan thought it “more prudent” to speak directly to BioNTech about the shipment, rather than deal with China-based Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., which secured rights in March to develop and market the BioNTech-Pfizer Inc. vaccine across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Blocked Access

China’s Communist Party claims Taiwan as its territory, despite having never ruled it. In addition to threatening democratic Taiwan with military invasion, Beijing has blocked Taiwan’s access to the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly during the pandemic as a means of pressuring President Tsai Ing-wen to accept its claim on the island nation.

While Taiwan has reaped praise for its response to the pandemic, with fewer than 1,000 cases and only nine deaths among its 23.5 million people, the nation has been slow to secure a sufficient supply of vaccines. Chen said on Wednesday that an inoculation drive would not likely begin until the middle of this year.

BioNTech may still be part of Taiwan’s vaccine plans and the country’s officials, including Chen, said on Wednesday that talks with the company were ongoing, which the firm later confirmed. During a Thursday press briefing, Chen expressed hope that those discussions would work out.

“We believe that BioNTech will surmount all obstacles, sign the contract soon and work with Taiwan to bring an end to the pandemic,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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