US senators promise vaccines for Taiwan amid China row

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The U.S. will give Taiwan 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, a part of President Joe Biden’s movement to share tens of countless jabs globally, three American senators said Sunday, after the self-ruled island whined that China is fueling its own attempts to shield vaccines because it battles an outbreak.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who left a three-hour stop in Taiwan with fellow Democrat Christopher Coons of both Delaware and Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, said their visit underscores bipartisan U.S. service for the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own renegade land. Taiwan faces a serious vaccine shortage and contains geopolitical importance as a flashpoint in U.S.-China relations.

“I am here to tell you that the United States may not permit you to stand alone,” Duckworth said in the airport after landing on a U.S. military transport airplane. “We’ll be by your side to ensure that the people of Taiwan have the things that they should get to the other side of the outbreak and beyond”

Taiwan was included on a long list of places declared last week that would get 25 million doses from the United States where the Biden administration says is the first tranche of 80 million doses to be dispersed globally. The majority of the initial tranche, including Taiwan’s, will probably be sent through COVAX, a U.N.-backed program to distribute vaccines to non and middle-income nations.

The island of 24 million people, that is located 160 km (100 miles) off China’s east coast, is distressed for vaccines following a sudden outbreak that began in late April caught police by surprise. Japan sent 1.2 million doses to Taiwan on Friday, preferring to skip the COVAX procedure in the interest of speed. It was uncertain if the 750,000 American doses would arrive.

Taiwan has accused China of blocking its attempts to achieve a deal with BioNTech to import the vaccine co-developed from the German company and Pfizer. Beijing has said it is ready to supply vaccines to Taiwan, such as BioNTech, by Chinese partner Fosun, and that the island’s government is to blame for placing politics over the lives of its own inhabitants. Taiwanese law prohibits the import of Chinese-made medicines.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, welcoming the senators in the airport, said that Taiwan is fortunate to have like-minded nations showing service, which he said is about sustaining liberty and democracy in the face of autocracy.

“While we are doing our very best to import vaccines, we have to overcome obstacles to make sure these life-saving medicine are sent free from troubles of Beijing.”

He said China is trying to block Taiwan’s global aid and stop it from engaging in the World Health Organization. “We are no strangers to that kind of obstructionism,” he explained.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, and most Taiwanese favor keeping the current state of de facto independence whilst engaging in robust economic exchanges with the mainland.

China’s ruling Communist Party says Taiwan has to come under its control, and has in recent months increased pressure on the island, including flying warplanes near Taiwan. The increasing activity and enormous improvements in China’s military capabilities have increased concern in the U.S., which is bound by its own laws to ensure Taiwan is capable of defending itself and also to respect all risks to the island’s security as issues of”grave concern.”

Taiwan, that had weathered the pandemic virtually unscathed until the recent outbreak, is now facing its most severe flare-up with more than 10,000 new cases since late April.

President Tsai Ing-wen, meeting with the senators, expressed gratitude to the Biden government for including Taiwan from the first class to receive vaccines and stated the doses will probably arrive in a critical period for the island.

“I expect that through collaboration with the United States, Japan and other countries, Taiwan will have the ability to overcome the immediate challenges and… and proceed towards recovery,” she said.

Both Duckworth, who had been born in Thailand, and Sullivan said the American contribution also reflects sympathy for Taiwan’s aid for the U.S., as Taiwan donated tens of thousands of masks and other supplies into the U.S. in the first days of the pandemic.

The three senators came at 7:30 a.m. from South Korea, where they met senior officers such as the foreign and defense ministers on Friday and Saturday to discuss COVID-19 cooperation, the U.S.-South Korea military alliance along with North Korea. They left Taiwan in 10.30 a.m. the same morning, based on Taiwan’s foreign ministry.