Coronavirus: The road to herd immunity

US diplomat praises Taiwan, stays vague on sending vaccines

Protesters calling for the Taiwanese government to allow the use of Covid-19 vaccines from China, on Monday. Taiwan has rejected China's vaccines, saying Beijing has not provided adequate information about its shots.
Protesters calling for the Taiwanese government to allow the use of Covid-19 vaccines from China, on Monday. Taiwan has rejected China's vaccines, saying Beijing has not provided adequate information about its shots.PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters calling for the Taiwanese government to allow the use of Covid-19 vaccines from China, on Monday. Taiwan has rejected China's vaccines, saying Beijing has not provided adequate information about its shots.
MR BRENT CHRISTENSEN, the outgoing de facto United States ambassador in Taipei.

TAIPEI • The top US diplomat in Taipei said he was confident Taiwan could control a spike in Covid-19 cases, noting its infection numbers remained quite low, and that they were in talks on vaccines, though he did not say shots were on the way.

After months of relative safety, Taiwan is battling a surge in domestic infections, but has vaccinated only around 1 per cent of its more than 23 million people.

Taiwan's government says millions more vaccine doses are on the way and, last week, the Health Minister spoke to his US counterpart to ask for help after President Joe Biden said he would send at least 20 million more doses abroad by the end of next month.

Mr Brent Christensen, the outgoing de facto United States ambassador in Taipei, told reporters that Taiwan's management of the pandemic had impressed everyone globally.

"We are very confident in the ability of Taiwan's health authorities to contain the latest outbreak," he said yesterday.

"I'd also point out that many of Taiwan's neighbours in the region are also experiencing outbreaks and Taiwan's infection numbers are still among the lowest in the world."

Criteria for releasing US vaccines were still being developed, but included the level of infection, the capacity of the healthcare system and the level of vaccination, he said.

"We know that Taiwan's own vaccines will be available in coming months and I can assure everyone that we are engaging with Taiwan at all levels."

Taiwan yesterday reported 635 infections and a record daily high of 11 deaths.

Like most countries, the US has no formal diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, but is its strongest backer on the world stage and a major source of arms.

China has offered Taiwan vaccines, but the government has rejected the idea, saying Beijing has not provided adequate information about its shots and has, in any case, tried to block Taiwan's access to vaccines internationally.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said yesterday that China was responsible for blocking a deal with Germany's BioNTech for its vaccine developed with Pfizer.

"We had almost completed the contract signing with the German manufacturer at one point, but it has been delayed till now because China has interfered," Ms Tsai said in a post on her Facebook page.

Pfizer-BioNTech's distributor for the Greater China region - which includes Taiwan - is Fosun Pharma based in Shanghai.

Taipei has insisted it wants to deal only with the German firm, something which Beijing would likely baulk at.

"Only by purchasing (the vaccines) from the original manufacturer can we obtain direct guarantee in quality and safety to avoid legal and political double risks," Ms Tsai said.

Taiwan has ordered more than 20 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca and Moderna, and is developing its own shots. So far, only a little more than 700,000 AstraZeneca doses have arrived.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian yesterday said "Taiwan's access to vaccines from the mainland is smooth", without elaborating further.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2021, with the headline 'US diplomat praises Taiwan, stays vague on sending vaccines'. Subscribe