Delivering American vaccines to Taiwan is an obvious political strategy
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
The 2.5 million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that took off from the US on their way to Taiwan on Saturday have excited the island’s authorities — and they are loudly expressing their gratitude. Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities said Washington’s assistance with vaccines confirmed the “rock-solid friendship between Taiwan and the US.” A senior US administration official told Reuters that “[the US is] not allocating these doses, or delivering these doses, based on political or economic conditions,” while he said that: “we believe that attempts by [the Chinese mainland] to block purchases, for political purposes, are reprehensible.”
Regarding the entry of these anti-epidemic supplies into Taiwan, both the US and Taiwan’s statements are blatant political operation. They have given themselves away by conspicuously and hypocritically pretending their innocence.
After this latest COVID-19 outbreak, the DPP authorities’ political manipulation is one of the “best” in the world. They not only divided specific anti-epidemic measures into “democratic” and “non-democratic,” but added political attributes to the vaccines. They believe the vaccine produced by the mainland cannot be used in Taiwan, nor can German’s BioNTech vaccine because Shanghai-based pharmaceutical giant Fosun Pharma has the exclusive rights to sell the BioNTech vaccines in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The DPP authorities approved only original vaccines from Germany, without the participation of Chinese mainland companies. The mainland has become a symbol that Taiwan authorities must eliminate from vaccines.
Such a politicalized COVID-19 fight has led to bad results. Taiwan’s epidemic situation has spread beyond people’s expectations. The huge shortage of vaccines has triggered people’s strong dissatisfaction. A few AstraZeneca vaccines have allegedly led to the death of dozens of people, causing new anxiety. The DPP authorities have seen their support rate plummet and they are feeling a sense of crisis. Now, the US has offered Taiwan 2.5 million doses of the Moderna shot, which is like a “politically timely windfall” for Taiwan authorities.
Washington has no interest in the island’s fight against the epidemic. Brent Christensen, the “director of the American Institute in Taiwan,” said on May 26 that he was “confident” Taiwan could control the spike in COVID-19 cases, noting its infection numbers remained “quite low.” Now the US finds that the DPP authorities are in deep trouble and that they might “have an accident” if Washington refuses to save them. So the US set aside 2.5 million doses of vaccines to help the DPP authorities with this emergency.
The current DPP authority has the most loyal politicians in the island who follow the US. Their failure to fight the epidemic was spurned by the Taiwan people and will affect the quality of their service to the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy and harm the interests of the US. To help Tsai get through at this point would be to solidify the US’ influence in Taiwan.
In a series of “thanks” from Tsai on Saturday, it was clear that the authorities of external affairs of the region and its representative office in the US went all out to ensure the 2.5 million doses of Moderna were sent to Taiwan. They could not have inspired the US by humanitarian appeals. The US’ humanitarian response to the epidemic has been completely numbed by its own tragedy of 600,000 deaths. Washington thought the epidemic in the island was not a big deal and needed no special help. The only way officials in Taiwan could persuade Washington is to emphasize the political purpose and only political considerations can bring about change.
Politics is both the starting point and the end of the Taiwan authorities’ position in the region’s fight against the epidemic. Washington joined in midway, and it certainly had no intention of turning Taiwan’s COVID-19 fight driven by politics into one driven by humanitarianism. The arrival of the 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in Taiwan is all well and good, but it is a drop in the ocean for the island’s 23 million people. It is hoped that Washington and Taiwan authorities will not take this as a joint play to cajole the people in Taiwan, or as a prelude to promoting Taiwan’s “indigenous vaccine.”
No region in the world has made the process of obtaining vaccines as dramatic as the island of Taiwan, denying abundant sources of vaccines in one direction while pleading for charity in another. Such a focus on political manipulation by the DPP authorities shows that the political foundations on which Taiwan’s system operates are shaking, and they are panicked.