China, Taiwan Clash Over COVID-19 Vaccine Supply

Earlier this week, China and Taiwan exchanged accusations of using COVID-19 vaccines as political tools. According to Reuters, China and Taiwan have had disagreements throughout the pandemic, going back to March 2020 ranging from China’s transparency about the virus’ spread and Taiwan’s lack of access to the World Health Organization.

Taiwan also accused China of blocking a deal with Germany over receiving vaccines, which Beijing denies. Representatives out of Beijing also say the vaccines should not be a political tool, while Taiwan’s party in power claimed China was the “black hand” preventing access to shots internationally (Reuters). Taiwan has vaccinated less than 2% of its population and is battling a sudden spike in domestic cases.

On May 28, a spokesman for Japan’s ruling party said they would consider sharing their COIVD-19 vaccines internationally, as Japan was given 400 million doses or double the adult population (Reuters). Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato spoke at a conference earlier this week, stating – according to Reuters – that “We think it’s important to ensure fair access to safe and effective vaccines in every country and region towards achieving universal health coverage.” Kato reportedly continued by ensuring his cabinet would delve into policies aiming to provide other regions with vaccines.

Taiwan spokesman Masahisa Sato added that, “when Japan was in need, Taiwan sent us two million masks.” Kato then declined to comment on whether the masks were received or used. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Japan cannot guarantee its own people access to enough vaccines and wanted to “emphasize that vaccine assistance should return to the original purpose of saving lives, and should not be reduced to a tool for political self-interest” (Reuters).

Clearly, there is a level of disconnect between Chinese and Taiwanese communications which is affecting the world population. Since the accusations began, China has offered Taiwan vaccines but Taiwan believes there are too many safety concerns with the Chinese manufactured medicine. China commented last week that Taiwan would fail in using vaccines to seek independence, insinuating that China has a hand in preventing Taiwan’s access to international vaccines. Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party stated that the “wide use of vaccines is essential to ultimately control the virus” in response, and added later on: “China has used [vaccines] as a political bargaining chip to prevent Taiwan from obtaining vaccines from the world” (Reuters).

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga hosted a summit this week concerning ensuring vaccine supply to other nations through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program. However, Japan has pledged financial support to the efforts, and during the summit agreed to donate roughly 30 million doses produced within the country through the COVAX program (Reuters). The COVAX pledges of millions of doses from economically sound countries are a positive light in the darkness of this global pandemic. As countries around the world join together to help one another fight the virus, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez summed up the best defense possible after donating 15 million doses to the program. Sanchez said that “only by leading by example will we be effective in preaching solidarity” (Reuters).

China sees and considers the democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory. This could be the driving force behind China’s alleged actions against Taiwan in the battle for vaccination. As the two have clashed multiple times since March 2020 regarding the best and most effective ways of controlling the virus, China has continued to vaccinate its population while leaving Taiwan to fend for itself. The positive outlook on the future for Taiwan comes from the WHO COVAX program which will deliver millions of doses to under-vaccinated countries. While it remains to be seen if China truly played a part in deterring vaccines from reaching Taiwan as a type of control, the COVAX program will hopefully be the solution to Taiwan’s <1% vaccination rate.