U.S. senator makes whirlwind 3-hour visit to Taiwan, promises vaccines for Taiwan

The United States will provide 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan as part of President Joe Biden’s initiative to share tens of millions of injections worldwide, three U.S. senators said Sunday (June 6). The move comes after Taiwan complained that China hindered its efforts to obtain the vaccine during the outbreak in Taiwan.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who spent three hours in Taiwan with Democrat Christopher Coons of Delaware and Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, said their visit underscored the bipartisan interest in the United States facing severe vaccine shortages and had geopolitical significance as a trigger for U.S.-China relations.

“I’m here to tell you that America will not leave you alone,” Duckworth said at the airport after boarding a U.S. military transport plane. “We will be with you to make sure that the people of Taiwan have everything they need to get to the other side of the pandemic and beyond.”

The U.S. announced last week that it will send 25 million doses of the vaccine to regions around the world, including Taiwan . The Biden administration says this is the first of at least 80 million doses of vaccine to be distributed worldwide. Most of the first batch, including Taiwan, will be sent through COVAX, a U.N.-backed program to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

The sudden outbreak of the new crown outbreak in Taiwan in late April caught authorities off guard and the vaccine was urgently needed. Japan shipped 1.2 million doses of vaccine to Taiwan on Friday, choosing to skip the COVAX process for the sake of speed. It is unclear when the 750,000 doses of U.S. vaccine will arrive.

Taiwan has accused China of blocking its agreement with BioNTech to import the vaccine, which was developed jointly by the German company and Pfizer. Beijing has said it is willing to supply vaccines to Taiwan, including BioNTech, through its Chinese partner Fosun, and that the island’s government should be held accountable for putting politics ahead of people’s lives. Taiwan law prohibits the import of Chinese-made drugs.

Welcoming the senators at the airport, Foreign Minister Wu Chiu-sup said Taiwan was fortunate to have like-minded countries showing support for what he said was the maintenance of freedom and democracy in the face of tyranny.

Taiwan faces a unique challenge in fighting the virus,” Wu said. While we do our best to import vaccines, we must also overcome obstacles to ensure that these life-saving drugs are not plagued by Beijing.”

Wu said China is trying to block Taiwan’s international aid and prevent it from participating in the World Health Organization. “We are no stranger to such obstructionism,” he said.

China’s ruling Communist Party says Taiwan must be under its control and has increased pressure on the island in recent months, including flying warplanes near Taiwan. China’s growing military capabilities and vast advances have drawn the attention of the United States, which is bound by its own laws to ensure Taiwan can defend itself and views all threats to the island’s security as a matter of “grave concern.

Taiwan, which survived the pandemic almost unscathed before the recent outbreak, is now facing its worst outbreak since late April, with more than 10,000 new cases.

In a meeting with senators, President Tsai Ing-wen expressed gratitude to the Biden administration for including Taiwan in the first batch of vaccinations and said the vaccine would arrive at a critical time for the island.

She said, “I hope that through cooperation with the United States, Japan and other countries, Taiwan can overcome the challenges ahead and …… move toward recovery.”

Both Duckworth, who was born in Thailand, and Sullivan said the U.S. donation also reflects Taiwan’s support for the United States, as it donated millions of masks and other supplies to the United States in the early days of the pandemic.

“This is a return of love from the United States,” said Sullivan, who was wearing a mask that he noted said “Love from Taiwan.

The three senators arrived at 7:30 a.m. from South Korea, where they met Friday and Saturday with senior officials, including the foreign and defense ministers, to discuss COVID-19 cooperation, the U.S.-Korea military alliance and North Korea. They left Taiwan at 10:30 a.m. the same day, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.