Don’t Thank Father America Yet – What’s Up Next in Vaccine Diplomacy?

Just as the Tsai Ing-wen government had no choice but to allow Foxconn founder Terry Gou to purchase Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, the U.S. government announced yesterday that it would send 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Taiwan, lending a hand to the Tsai government as it faced overwhelming public criticism over the lack of vaccines. The coincidence of these events is obviously an extension of the conflict between the U.S. and China. The U.S. and Taiwan have formed a strategic anti-China and tactical anti-Gou connection. Amid official praise for our “true friends with true compassion,” I would like to ask the government: Where are the vaccines that we have supposedly purchased? What is the next phase in our vaccine procurement strategy?

The purchase of 5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the Yonglin Foundation has been blocked for almost a month. Early last Friday morning, Gou issued a statement revealing that it was President Tsai who had been behind the entire process and refused to allow the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines distributed by the Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group into Taiwan. Given the public’s discontent, the Tsai government was forced to authorize Gou and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to purchase the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on behalf of the government. A day later, in a sudden and dramatic turn of events, the United States announced an increase in the donation of Moderna vaccines to Taiwan, tripling the 750,000 doses that were originally promised to 2.5 million. This was a shot in the arm for the Tsai government, as it thoroughly reinvigorated the administration, a mood that swept through both government officials and netizens online.

Reuters reported that senior U.S. government officials emphasized that the vaccines “do not come with strings attached,” noting that Taiwan had “faced unfair challenges in its efforts to acquire vaccines in the global marketplace,” and denouncing China’s politically motivated obstructionist tactics as “reprehensible.” It is evident from official U.S. statements that this is merely another joint war of perception by the U.S. and Taiwan, aiming to create the impression that they are working together to resist China’s efforts to prevent Taiwan from purchasing vaccines. One can further speculate that the increase in U.S. vaccine delivery and TSMC’s vaccine donation were actions the the Democratic Progressive Party took simultaneously to counteract what Gou did.

Of course, the U.S. also doesn’t want to see Taiwan purchase Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines through Shanghai Fosun, which is clear from the American approach with regard to South Korea, to which the U.S. sent a large quantity of vaccines a while back, fearing that South Korea would otherwise become overly beholden to China and ruin the close cooperation between the U.S. and the South Korean military. For the DPP, the purchase of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines through Shanghai Fosun would be extremely humiliating, especially if Gou were allowed to purchase 5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before the government could procure anything comparable. Given the hard truth that whoever gets the vaccine wins the war, if Gou had his way, would the DPP even have a chance in the upcoming election? Yet, under the laws of commerce, the only way to obtain the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be through Gou.

Thus, with mutual interests in mind, the U.S. and Taiwan have formed a strategic anti-China and tactical anti-Gou alliance. Prior to Gou’s crucial strike, up until yesterday, Father America had announced the donation of just 750,000 doses of vaccine to Taiwan through COVAX, without knowing when these doses would arrive in Taiwan. The United States’ attitude toward us has been far removed from its attitude toward South Korea. Whether Gou gets his hands on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in the end or not, at least he has accelerated the vaccine procurement process and increased the number of vaccines Taiwan will get from the United States.

But while the Tsai administration has been manipulating domestic propaganda about the “Taiwan-U.S. friendship” and indirectly mocking the Kuomintang and the vaccine-hungry public, it has forgotten the most important thing: The number of vaccines that Taiwan has received from others so far this year is far greater than the number of vaccines that the government has purchased. Take the Moderna vaccines, produced by America, for instance; only 390,000 doses of the 5 million doses contracted by Taiwan have been received, less than 8% of the total number. The more foreign vaccine aid Taiwan receives, the more the government’s policy blunders are underscored, turning Taiwan into a vaccine refugee and undermining our national dignity.

In particular, now that the Delta variant has invaded Europe and the United States, nations have begun to prepare for the next phase of the COVID-19 resurgence this fall and winter. Preparation includes the procurement of more vaccines in preparation for a third dose, as well as the procurement of a new generation of vaccines that would boast greater protection against the Delta variant. On the other hand, Taiwan has not seen any government response to the emerging variant in terms of vaccine policy. Just the other day, by a majority in the Legislative Yuan, the DPP even rejected the opposition party’s proposal to increase the purchase of international vaccines. Apart from waiting like a sitting duck for donations from our “true friends” out of their “true compassion” and being defensive about vaccines made in Taiwan, what other active efforts has the government made to procure vaccines?

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