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Taipei, Taiwan – The United States will donate 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan as part of President Joe Biden’s move to distribute tens of millions of injections worldwide, three U.S. senators said Sunday after the self-governing island complained that China prevents its implementation. efforts to keep vaccines safe during an outbreak.
Democrat Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who made a three-hour stop in Taiwan with fellow Democrat Christopher Koons of Delaware and Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, said their visit underscores U.S. bipartisan support for the democratic island that Beijing is declaring its renegade territory. … Taiwan faces severe vaccine shortages and has geopolitical significance as a hot spot in US-China relations.
“I am here to tell you that the United States will not leave you alone,” Duckworth said at the airport after landing on a US military transport plane. “We will be by your side so that the people of Taiwan have what they need to get to the other side of the pandemic and beyond.”
Taiwan has been included in the long list of places it announced last week that it would receive 25 million doses from the United States, which the Biden administration says is the first tranche of at least 80 million doses to be distributed worldwide. Most of the first tranche, including the Taiwanese one, will be channeled through COVAX, a UN-supported vaccine distribution program to low- and middle-income countries.
An island with a population of 24 million, located 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the east coast of China, is in desperate need of vaccines after a sudden outbreak of the disease that began in late April and caught authorities by surprise. Japan shipped 1.2 million doses to Taiwan on Friday, opting to skip the COVAX process in the interest of speed. It was unclear when the 750,000 US doses would be delivered.
Taiwan has accused China of blocking its efforts to reach an agreement with BioNTech to import a vaccine jointly developed 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 is to blame for putting politics above the lives of its people. Taiwan law prohibits the import of Chinese-made drugs.
Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, welcoming the senators at the airport, said Taiwan was lucky to have like-minded countries supporting support that he said was aimed at upholding freedom and democracy in the face of autocracy.
“Taiwan faces unique challenges in the fight against the virus,” he said. “While we are doing our best to import vaccines, we must overcome obstacles to ensure that these vital drugs are delivered without Beijing’s problems.”
He said China is trying to block international aid to Taiwan and prevent it from participating in the World Health Organization. “We’re no stranger to this kind of obstructionism,” he said.
Taiwan and China split in the wake of the 1949 civil war, and most Taiwanese are in favor of maintaining the current state of de facto independence, while maintaining an active economic exchange with the mainland.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has said Taiwan should come under its control and has stepped up pressure on the island in recent months, including the launch of warplanes near Taiwan. The growing activity and significant improvement in China’s military capabilities have raised concerns in the United States, which, in accordance with its own laws, must ensure that Taiwan is able to defend itself and treat all threats to the island’s security as a “serious concern.”
Taiwan, which was largely unaffected by the pandemic until the recent outbreak, is now facing its worst outbreak, with more than 10,000 new cases since late April.
President Tsai Ing-wen, at a meeting with senators, expressed his gratitude to the Biden administration for including Taiwan in the first group to receive vaccines, and said the doses would be delivered at a critical time for the island.
“I hope that through cooperation with the United States, Japan and other countries, Taiwan will be able to overcome pressing problems and … and move towards recovery,” she said.
Both Duckworth, who was born in Thailand, and Sullivan said the US donation also reflects Taiwan’s gratitude for supporting the US, as Taiwan donated millions of masks and other supplies to the US in the early days of the pandemic.
“It’s love from America in return,” said Sullivan, wearing a mask that he noticed was written “Love from Taiwan.”
The three senators arrived at 7:30 a.m. from South Korea, where they met with senior officials, including foreign and defense ministers, on Friday and Saturday to discuss COVID-19 cooperation, the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, and North Korea. They flew out of Taiwan at 10:30 the same morning, according to the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
___ Su reported from Hong Kong.
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