China and Taiwan face off again over vaccines, criticize each other for “political manipulation”

The exchange of fire between the Chinese authorities and Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government over the vaccine issue seems to be intensifying. Following Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian’s recent claim that Taiwan’s acquisition of the AZ vaccine from Japan is “a way to seek independence through vaccines”, another Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, on Monday (May 31) questioned whether Japan has enough vaccines to provide to Taiwan. In addition to questioning whether Japan has enough vaccines to provide to Taiwan, Wang Wenbin said on Monday (May 31) that vaccines should not become a “political tool”. In response to Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman’s successive statements on the issue of Japanese vaccine aid to Taiwan, Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) launched a counterattack on the same day, criticizing the “Chinese Communist Party” for being the “mastermind” behind the obstruction of Taiwan’s access to international vaccines and for “using the vaccine issue to divide Taiwan. The DPP in Taiwan launched a counterattack on the same day, criticizing the “Chinese Communist Party” for being “behind” the obstruction of Taiwan’s access to international vaccines and “using the vaccine issue to divide Taiwan.

After more than a year of being a “model student” in controlling the new vaccine epidemic, Taiwan has recently experienced a sudden break in the epidemic, with both the number of confirmed cases and deaths soaring, which has also raised concerns and worries about the strange shortage of vaccines in Taiwan. Taiwan has only received about 700,000 doses of vaccine so far, and the number of people who have been vaccinated is less than 2% of the total population of 23.5 million. Over time, vaccines have not only become the focus of public attention, but also the subject of quarrels and defenses between the Taiwan government and the opposition, as well as between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing, which has always claimed sovereignty over Taiwan and is willing to recover it even by force, recently offered to provide vaccines and medical personnel to Taiwan, but the offer was immediately rejected by Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government because the Taiwanese authorities fear that the Chinese-made vaccines are a safety hazard. Last week, President Tsai Ing-wen and Health and Welfare Minister and Central Epidemic Prevention Command Center chief Chen Shizhong publicly accused the Beijing authorities of interfering with Taiwan’s purchase of vaccines from the German biotech (BNT) company, resulting in the eventual collapse of an already agreed contract.

Last Friday (May 28), Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimichi Mogi confirmed Japan’s intention to provide vaccines to other countries with insufficient vaccines, and he specifically mentioned Taiwan. In particular, Toshichika noted that Taiwan was the first to offer help to Japan when the “3.11” earthquake struck in 2011, and that with the recent outbreak of the epidemic in Taiwan facing a vaccine shortage, Japan “should return the favor.” Japan’s offer was immediately and warmly welcomed by the Taiwanese authorities. President Tsai Ing-wen also tweeted in Japanese that she was “happy that Taiwan and Japan can support each other” and that she was particularly grateful for the “deep friendship between them.

But the proposed cooperation between Japan and Taiwan on vaccines has raised Beijing’s hackles. At a regular press conference on Monday (May 31), Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stressed that China firmly opposes “political showboating through the epidemic” and even interference in China’s internal affairs. He said that vaccine aid should return to its original purpose of saving lives, and should not be turned into a “tool for political gains”.

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) severely criticized Beijing for not only “causing Taiwan’s contract with the original German BNT manufacturer to break down, but now it is blatantly trying to use political power to interfere with Japan’s provision of the AZ vaccine to Taiwan,” so “it is clear who is the real ‘political obstacle’ to Taiwan’s access to vaccines. It goes without saying.