The United States will give Taiwan 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, as part of the country’s plan to share millions of jabs globally, a delegation of US senators have announced, after Taipei complained that China was hindering its efforts to access the injections.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, who landed in Taiwan with two of her colleagues on Sunday, said their trip underscores the bipartisan support for the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own territory.
“We are here as friends, because we know that Taiwan is experiencing a challenging time right now, which was why it was especially important for the three of us to be here in a bipartisan way,” said Duckworth.
“It was critical to the United States that Taiwan be included in the first group to receive vaccines, because we recognise your urgent need, and we value this partnership.”
She did not give details of which vaccines Taiwan would get or when.
Taiwan is dealing with a spike in domestic cases but has been affected like much of the world by global vaccines shortages. Only approximately 3 percent of its 23.5 million people have been vaccinated, with most getting only the first shot of two needed. Taiwan has accused China of blocking its efforts to secure vaccines, but Beijing denied the claims and has offered the island Chinese-made vaccines.
But the government in Taipei has repeatedly expressed concern about their safety, and, regardless, cannot accept them without changing Taiwanese law, which bans their import.
Standing by Duckworth’s side, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu thanked Washington for the donation.
“While we are doing our best to import vaccines, we must overcome obstacles to ensure that these life-saving medicines are delivered free from trouble from Beijing,” he said.
Wu said Taiwan was fortunate to have many like-minded countries showing their support, which he said is about sustaining freedom and democracy in the face of autocracy.
Duckworth and her colleagues, Dan Sullivan and Christopher Coons, also met President Tsai Ing-wen at the Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei. Tsai said the vaccines, along with those Japan donated last week, would be a great help in their fight against the virus.
“The vaccines are timely rain for Taiwan, and your assistance will be etched on our hearts,” Tsai told the senators, in footage released by her office.
US senators and congressmen visit Taiwan routinely in normal times, but coming in the middle of an upswing in infections on the island when its borders remain largely closed to visitors is a strong show of support.
Unusually, they also arrived on a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III freighter, rather than a private jet as is generally the case for senior US visitors.
Taiwan’s vaccine arrivals have been gathering pace.
Japan delivered to Taiwan 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca PLC’s coronavirus vaccine on Friday for free, in a gesture that more than doubled the number of shots the island has received to date.