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Taiwan blames ‘outside forces’ for blocking BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine deal. China says it had nothing to do with it

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Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Thursday that it was “mere fabrication” that Beijing had interfered in the sale of BioNTech vaccines in Taiwan, the state news agency Reported by Xinhua.
A day earlier, Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on a radio interview that Taiwan and BioNTech were about to sign an agreement for 5 million doses of vaccines in December, when the company abruptly withdrew.

“In the process of (discussing the agreement) I was always worried that there would be outside forces intervening,” Chen said, without mentioning any location. “We believe there was political pressure,” he said. “By then we had already prepared our press release. But some people do not want Taiwan to be too happy.”

In his statement Thursday, Ma from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office also accused Taipei of trying to “bypass” BioNTech general agent in Greater China, Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group.

Fosun, a China-based company, signed a “strategic partnership” deal with BioNTech last March giving it the rights to develop and commercialize the drug-producing coronavirus vaccine across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

But Chen said the Taiwanese government had never been in contact with Fosun and was talking directly to BioNTech in Germany. BioNTech had also never asked Taiwan to negotiate with Fosun, he added.

Fosun did not respond to a request for comment. Leading Taiwanese pharmaceutical company TTY Biopharm, which was involved in talks with BioNTech, declined to comment citing a confidentiality agreement reached between the two firms.

In a statement Thursday, BioNTech said discussions with Taiwan were ongoing. “BioNTech is committed to helping end the pandemic for people around the world, and we intend to supply Taiwan with our vaccine as part of this global commitment,” the statement said.

Concern that political pressure could prevent the deal with BioNTech had kept Taiwanese Health Minister Chen from discussing it publicly while negotiations were under way, he said in Wednesday’s interview.

At a news conference Thursday, Chen welcomed BioNTech’s statement, calling it “an initiative to send goodwill.” “We hope to continue and complete our original contract,” he said.

In December, when Taiwan and BioNTech were close to signing the deal, Chen announced at a press conference the self-governing island had secured nearly 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, including 4.76 million through the COVAX initiative, 10 million from AstraZeneca and another 5 million from a company “which is finalizing final confirmation”.

But shortly after that announcement, BioNTech withdrew from the deal.

While Chen did not mention China’s name, he took a thin swipe at Beijing after taking off from the air during a trade holiday.

“It’s just like (our) efforts to attend the World Health Assembly,” he told the host, referring to Beijing’s blocking of Taiwan to attend the World Health Organization’s annual assembly as an observer since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016.

A disturbing task

The stalemate in the agreement between Taiwan and BioNTech is the latest example highlighting the difficulties in the global distribution of vaccines, which health experts say is integral to ending a pandemic that has killed more than 2.4 million people worldwide. .
Although some companies have overcome scientific barriers to developing effective Covid-19 vaccines, their distribution can be a daunting task, at risk of disruption by various business, political and geopolitical tensions.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of nearly 24 million people located on the southeast coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have ruled separately for more than seven decades.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed that Beijing will never allow the island to become fully independent and has refused to rule out the use of force if necessary.

Interstate ties have weakened since Tsai’s pro-independence Progressive Democratic Party (DPP) came to power and the pandemic has further strained relations.

On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry hit Taipei, accusing it of “using the pandemic as an excuse to engage in political manipulation and raise policy issues.”

“The Progressive Democratic Party must … do some real things to promote the health and well-being of the people in Taiwan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference.

Taiwan has been a rare success in the fight against coronavirus, thanks to its swift action to stop incoming travel from mainland China at the start of the Wuhan outbreak, as well as the imposition of strict border controls and quarantine requirements throughout pandemic. As of Friday, the island had reported only nine deaths and less than 1,000 infections – most of which were imported cases.

But when it comes to vaccination, Taipei has lagged behind many other Asian governments. Chen previously told Taiwan’s State News Agency that the island could start offering Covid-19 vaccines. in June. Thanks to successful control of the virus, Taiwan faces less pressure for a rapid spread of mass vaccination, unlike in the hard-hit countries like the United States and Britain.

China, meanwhile, has promised to make its vaccines a “global public good.” The Chinese government said this month it was providing vaccine assistance to 53 countries and had exported doses to 22 nations. Taiwan is not on the list of those recipients.

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