The US will donate 750,000 Covid-19 vaccines to Taiwan, signalling its support for the country after Taipei accused Beijing of interfering in its efforts to secure jabs.
The announcement by a group of US senators during a high-profile visit to Taipei on Sunday came just days after Japan donated 1.2m jabs as Taiwan grapples with its first large-scale Covid outbreak.
The US contribution to Taiwan accounts for more than 10 per cent of the 7m vaccine doses Washington has pledged to give to Asian and Pacific nations.
“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,” said Tammy Duckworth, a US senator.
Duckworth and two other senators arrived in Taipei on a US Air Force transport aircraft from South Korea, the first US military plane to land in Taiwan since a disaster relief mission following a 1999 earthquake.
Visiting US delegations have avoided using Air Force aircraft ever since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to annex it if Taipei refuses to submit under its control indefinitely, sees the presence of any US military assets on the island as a provocation.
“They used an Air Force plane to highlight this mission is supported, endorsed or even co-ordinated with the administration,” said a senior Taiwanese government official. “The US government wants to make sure the people understand the significance of the short visit.”
Taiwanese health authorities announced 343 new locally transmitted cases on Sunday. Taipei largely contained coronavirus last year but an outbreak which began in May has started spreading into some factories in the electronics industry, the backbone of the country’s booming export sector.
Taiwan’s opposition has fiercely criticised the government of President Tsai Ing-wen over the lack of vaccines. The government fears China is trying to use the health crisis to undermine social stability and turn the public against Tsai, whom Beijing has accused of “plotting independence with the help of the pandemic”.
China has said it is ready to provide vaccines to Taiwan, but Taipei has accused Beijing of working to block efforts to obtain vaccines directly. China also criticised Japan for its vaccine donation to Taiwan.
Tsai indicated her determination to partner with countries other than China in fighting the virus. “I am confident that through co-operation with the United States, Japan and other countries, Taiwan can overcome our current challenges and help advance international disease prevention efforts to put us all on the path to recovery,” she said in a meeting with the US senators.
Tsai said their message of bipartisan congressional support “once again demonstrates the rock-solid friendship between Taiwan and the United States”.