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Taiwan tech companies buy 10m Covid vaccine doses in deal that sidesteps China

Taiwan tech companies buy 10m Covid vaccine doses in deal that sidesteps China

Major Taiwanese tech companies have inked a deal to buy 10m vaccine doses for Taiwan, sidestepping months of complicated geopolitical wrangling between Beijing and Taipei.

The US$350m purchase from German manufacturer BioNTech, is split between TSMC, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, and Foxconn, one of the world’s largest contract electronics makers, and its charity foundation. The two companies will donate the vaccines to Taiwan’s central epidemic command centre for distribution.

The convoluted deal, formalised on Sunday, closes the loop on a saga which tied China’s long-held but rejected claim over Taiwan to the island’s desperate need for vaccines, and allows Taiwan to procure the China-linked vaccines without the government having to deal directly with China.

Taiwan is suffering major shortages of vaccines, in large part due to global supply issues, but it has also accused Beijing of scuttling an early deal to secure 5m doses directly from BioNTech. Beijing denies the accusation, saying Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceuticals had sole distribution rights for the region including Taiwan, and that Taiwan was welcome to go through them.

But to accept Chinese-made or -donated vaccines would be “the kiss of death” politically for Taiwan’s ruling party, analyst Drew Thompson said last month. Despite never ruling Taiwan, China’s Communist party (CCP) government claims it as a province, which it vows to retake. The CCP has recently increased pressure and military intimidation of the island and its occupants.

Taiwan has rejected China’s offers as fake altruism. China has accused Taiwan of putting politics above its people, while simultaneously lambasting doses donated by the US and Japan as foreign interference.

Sunday’s deal will bring sorely needed doses to Taiwan without inflaming domestic or regional tensions. While Fosun claims exclusive distribution rights for Taiwan, the deal appears to have satisfied all sensitivities. A statement from BioNTech’s chief executive said the doses would be manufactured in Europe, while Foxconn founder Terry Guo said the vaccines will be coming “straight from the German factory”.

“We are very glad to see that this vaccine jointly developed by Fosun Pharameceuticals and BioNTech can play a positive role in the prevention and control of epidemic situations in Taiwan,” a statement by Fosun said.

“We will work together with our partners to make safe and effective vaccines available to Taiwan as soon as possible, safeguard the health and safety of Taiwan compatriots, and help them return to normal life as soon as possible.”

Taiwan is responding to its only major outbreak of the pandemic, after the Alpha strain spread across the island, infecting about 13,000 people and killing more than 700. Just 0.3% of the population have been fully vaccinated while at least 14% have received at least one dose. Its existing supply of vaccines is largely propped up by donations from Japan and the US.


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