US triples COVID vaccines for Taiwan amid tensions with China

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A flight carrying Moderna Covid-19 vaccines arrives at Taoyuan International airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 18, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

A senior US administration official says Washington will ship 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan, more than tripling America’s previous allocation of shots for the island, amid increasing tensions with China. 

Washington is competing with Beijing to deepen geopolitical clout through so-called "vaccine diplomacy", according to Reuters. The vaccines will be delivered to Taiwan on Sunday, the official said on Saturday. 

US President Joe Biden's administration initially had promised to donate 750,000 doses to Taiwan, but it is increasing that number.

The move will almost certainly irk China, which considers Taiwan, the self-governed island, which is also called Chinese Taipei, as part of its own territory. Beijing has grown increasingly assertive in recent months after the US administration’s attempts to interfere in Taiwan.

However, successive US administrations have been courting officials in Taipei in an attempted affront to Beijing and in violation of their own stated policy.

China has repeatedly offered to send COVID vaccines to Taiwan, which has been battling a spike in domestic infections, but the island government has reported denied the offer. 

The America-donated vaccines will leave Memphis, Tennessee, on a flight belonging to Taiwan's China Airlines early on Saturday and arrive in Taipei on Sunday evening, the senior US administration official told Reuters. 

"We are not allocating these doses, or delivering these doses, based on political or economic conditions. We are donating these vaccines with the singular objective of saving lives," the official said.

"Our vaccines do not come with strings attached," the official said, adding Taiwan had "faced unfair challenges in its efforts to acquire vaccines on the global marketplace."

Taiwan was planning to purchase vaccines from Germany's BioNTech SE but the deal could not succeed, with Taiwan's government blaming pressure from Beijing.

China, however, has said Taiwan is free to obtain the vaccines through Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, which has a contract to sell BioNTech's vaccine in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

"We believe that these attempts by China to block purchases, for political purposes, are reprehensible," the senior Biden administration official said.

Washington also recognizes the Chinese sovereignty over the island, but it has antagonized Chinese officials by selling weapons and goods to Taiwan, bypassing Beijing, and also backing the secessionist Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

According to a recent Financial Times report, Biden has made it his mission to reinvigorate America’s alliances and mobilize them for a new purpose: competition with China. 

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