China has acted to prevent Taiwan from reaching an agreement with German company BioNTech for the supply of vaccines against Covid-19, Taiwanese authorities said Thursday (27).
Although the government of the disputed territory has complained about its neighbor on other occasions, this is the first time that it has directly accused Beijing of blocking the supply of the immunizing agent.
“Taiwan was about to make a deal with the German factory, but due to China’s intervention, we are still unable to sign the contract,” President Tsai Ing-wen said at the meeting. ‘a meeting of his party, according to the newspaper. China Morning Post.
The rift between the two sides, dating back to the civil war, has intensified in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic – Beijing does not recognize the legitimacy of the Taiwanese government and claims the island as its territory.
It would even have led BioNTech to ask the Taiwanese government not to use the word “country” in press releases about the negotiations to obtain the vaccine, Taiwanese Minister of Health Chen Shih-chun said.
According to him, the two sides negotiated for two months the purchase of the vaccination agents, which are produced in partnership between the German company and the American company Pfizer, and were close to an agreement on January 8.
“Suddenly, BioNTech sent a letter urging us to change the phrase ‘our country’ in the Chinese version of the press release,” Chen said at a press conference Thursday.
According to the file, the order was dispatched just four hours before the official announcement of the deal. The government agreed to the change, replacing the term in question with “Taiwan,” but a week later, BioNTech said the signing of the contract would have to be postponed due to changes in the vaccine supply schedule.
“It is very clear to me that the contract has been closed,” the minister said. “The problem is something outside of the contract.”
Unlike the president, however, Chen did not directly blame China for the action.
BioNTech said it did not comment on the ongoing negotiations. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also declined to respond to Taiwanese authorities’ accusations, but said Thursday there was no obstacle to the island receiving Chinese vaccines.
Shanghai-based Chinese conglomerate Fosun Pharma signed an agreement with BioNTech last year to be the exclusive supplier of the German company’s vaccination agents in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
In this scenario, the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office has said it supports an initiative by two Chinese private entities to offer vaccines to the island. Although the names of the two institutions in question have not been officially disclosed, speculation is that the offer was made by Fosun Pharma itself and one of its subsidiaries.
The Taiwanese government has confirmed that it received the proposal and refused because China is not transparent about the matter and does not disclose whether the vaccines that would go to the island come from BioNTech or another supplier.
This new chapter in the beard swap between Beijing and Taipei has gained in relevance as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths has skyrocketed on the island in recent weeks. In just one month, the cumulative death toll in Taiwan – which has long been an example in the fight against the pandemic – has nearly quadrupled, from 12 dead at the end of April to 46 today. During the same period, the total number of accumulated cases increased from 1,110 to 6,356.
To make matters worse, the island has so far vaccinated only 1% of its 23 million inhabitants – all with doses of AstraZeneca / Oxford, which were received through the Covax consortium, a global initiative promoted by WHO (World Health Organization) to facilitate access to vaccines.
Taiwan not being recognized by most countries and international entities, it has struggled to access Covid vaccines.
Defeated by communist forces in the 1949 civil war, the so-called Chinese nationalists – who defended a capitalist model for the whole country – fled to the island of Taiwan, where they established their own government, this which created the division that persists to this day. .
In this scenario, Beijing sees the island as a rebellious province, while the government of Taiwan declares itself an independent country. Therefore, the Chinese government refuses to have diplomatic relations with countries or entities that recognize Taiwan.
Given the importance of China on the international scene, this ends up isolating the island, which is not part of the WHO or the UN and which is only recognized by a dozen countries – Brazil , USA, European Union, Russia and Japan, for example, they do not officially recognize Taiwan as an independent country, although many have informal relations.
This week, the island’s government had previously complained that it had not been invited to attend a WHO summit to discuss the response to the pandemic. Even without officially being part of the entity, Taiwan could have been invited to participate in the meeting as an observer, but this did not happen.
“As an international professional health organization, WHO must seek the health and well-being of all mankind, and not give in to the interests of any particular member,” said Tuesday (25) a joint statement from the ministries of health and health. Foreign Affairs of Taiwan, with reference to China.
The island’s government has also accused the rival of using vaccines as a diplomatic weapon. In April, for example, Taiwan said Beijing had offered Covid-19 vaccines to the Paraguayan government in return for ending the South American country’s diplomatic support for the island.
Paraguay is one of 15 countries that still have formal ties with Taiwan in the world, despite Chinese pressure.
At the time, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Xi Jinping’s regime was “showing courage” with its vaccine diplomacy, especially in South and Central America, where some of the main allies of Taiwan. Beijing has denied all the charges.