Covid-19: Despite Rising Cases, Taiwan Resists Beijing’s Vaccine Diplomacy

While the health situation in Taiwan is deteriorating dramatically, this densely populated island is facing vaccine shortages. However, China, which considers the archipelago to be one of its provinces, continues to offer it doses. The government of Taiwan flatly refuses to help.

Prior to this, the virus remained at the gates of the island. Taiwan is regularly used as a health crisis management model. In 2020, when the countries of the whole world were closed in turn, the inhabitants of the archipelago, they also took advantage of restaurants, shops and cultural places. The recipe for this “Taiwanese model” is: speedy border closures, widespread use of masks, and a draconian case-tracing policy.

This period is over. The situation has deteriorated sharply since late April, when the government decided to ease quarantine measures for airline pilots. Then, without her knowledge, she presented the Alpha version on the territory.

Since then, the epidemic has disappeared. “Since the end of March, the infection has increased 12 times. There are about 200 new cases every day, while in a few months there were only ten, ”explains France 24 Hubert Testart, economist and author of“ Pandemic, changing the world. ”On Saturday, June 12, the number of deaths since the start of the epidemic reached 411 after it remained at 7 in 2020.

From mid-May and for the first time since the start of the pandemic, Taiwanese were subjected to semi-content. Public places, including schools and universities, are closed and gatherings are prohibited. Initially scheduled for May 28, these restrictions have been extended until June 28.

Lack of vaccines

And this outbreak of the epidemic reveals another serious problem: the country is lagging behind in vaccinations. Officially launched in mid-March, it develops at an ant rate. As of 11 June, 800,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered on this island of over 23 million inhabitants, a very densely populated state. In other words, according to data provided by Our World in Data, only 3.36% of the total population received at least their first injection, almost exclusively with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We have seen this delay in the start of vaccination campaigns in most Asian countries, especially those that have successfully contained the epidemic, such as South Korea or Japan,” analyzes Hubert Testard. “This is probably due to the fact that the population felt safe. The governments wanted to take their time … But, obviously, everything accelerates as soon as the situation escalates. “

>> Read also: Royal controversy over vaccinations in Thailand

Since mid-May, the island has been trying to accelerate vaccinations, in part by creating free access for everyone. However, it faces a major obstacle: the lack of affordable vaccines. Although the island has ordered about 20 million doses abroad, it has received only 726,600 doses of AstraZeneca and 150,000 doses of Moderna to date.

Taiwan, which China considers one of its provinces, won’t have to look far in search of additional vaccines. Since the start of the pandemic, Beijing has continued to offer its own doses. On Friday, June 11, Taiwanese were even invited to come and get vaccinated in China, Reuters reported.

However, the government of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen categorically rejects this decision, seeing in this Beijing proposal a “political restoration” of vaccinations and a way to establish its dominance over the archipelago.

On several occasions, Taipei went further, blaming China for the archipelago’s partial responsibility for the difficulty in supplying whey. Instead of negotiating with Beijing, the Taiwan government wants to deal directly with manufacturers, in particular with the German Pfizer-BioNTech. But these attempts were systematically unsuccessful, although the negotiations seemed to be going well.

No wonder “Pfizer signed a Greater China distribution deal with Beijing, which includes Taiwan,” explains Hubert Testard. “It is highly likely that these direct negotiations will be blocked by China.”

Thus, Taipei was at an impasse: accepting the vaccines included in this Greater China contract would mean recognizing Taiwan’s membership in China.

“Taiwan’s access to vaccines continues to be limited by Chinese interference,” spokesman for the President of Taiwan, Kolas Yotaka, said in late May on Twitter after the failure of new talks with the German manufacturer.

Harsh criticism from propekins

On the island, some voices from an opposition party close to Beijing, the Kuomintang, are increasingly agreeing with China’s proposal. For example, Hong Xiu-chu, a prominent figure in the party, recently challenged the president, reminding her that “the real enemy was the virus, not Beijing.” The party also launched a social media campaign on June 1 with the unambiguous statement, “Taiwan needs vaccines.”

“What’s your vaccination strategy?” also denounced party president Johnny Chang during an online conference on June 1. And to score: “The arrogance of this government and its bad policies have plunged us into the crisis we are in now.”

In addition to political issues, the government defends itself with more health arguments, constantly questioning the effectiveness of the Chinese vaccine. In addition, at the end of May last year, he published a poll conducted by his party confirming that 86% of Taiwanese would refuse the Chinese vaccine anyway.

Geopolitical question

Now the issue is taking a geopolitical turn, with Taipei’s allies fleeing to help the island. On June 4, a symbolic date for the Tiananmen Square celebration, Japan announced that it would send over a million vaccines to the archipelago. “Taiwan and Tokyo share the values ​​of freedom and democracy,” said the Japanese foreign minister, which immediately angered Beijing.

On Sunday, June 6, it was the turn of three US senators to pay a diplomatic visit to Taiwan to announce the shipment of 750,000 vaccines. “We are in the context of an escalating rivalry between China and the United States. This statement by Washington is purely political in nature, ”analyzes Hubert Testard. “This is clearly not only aid, but also undermining Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy.”

And Taiwan hopes to soon rely on vaccines produced directly on its territory. Three of them are currently completing Phase 2 tests, and two of them have already been ordered by the government. Thus, the certification procedure should allow their mass deployment by the end of July.

“Taiwan can continue to do without Chinese vaccines,” concludes Hubert Testard. “The vaccination campaign will certainly continue to gain traction.” The government’s task is to vaccinate 60% of the population by the end of October.

Back to top button