TAIPEI (REUTERS) – Taiwan Vice-President William Lai used his final day in the United States to repeat an accusation that China blocked the island from obtaining Covid-19 vaccines last year, and to thank a US lawmaker for her role in donating the shots.
Last May, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking a deal with Germany’s BioNTech for Covid-19 vaccines, after Beijing offered the shots to the island via a Chinese company just as Taiwan was dealing with a rise in domestic infections.
Beijing has angrily denied trying to stop Taiwan getting vaccines, and also offered Chinese-developed shots, which the island rejected, citing safety concerns.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Less than two weeks after Ms Tsai’s comments, Senator Tammy Duckworth, visiting Taipei with two other US lawmakers, said the US would donate 750,000 vaccine doses to Taiwan.
Speaking to the Illinois Democrat during a stopover in San Francisco while on the way back to Taiwan from Honduras, Mr Lai offered his thanks.
Mr Lai said he was “especially grateful to her last year when Taiwan was unable to obtain vaccines due to the China factor”, Taiwan’s presidential office said, citing the de facto US ambassador to Washington Hsiao Bi-khim, who is accompanying Mr Lai.
“She not only actively advocated that the Biden administration should provide vaccines to Taiwan, but also personally went to Taiwan to announce that the United States would donate Taiwan vaccines.”
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Taiwan eventually began receiving the BioNTech vaccines, jointly developed with Pfizer, in September.
But that was only after Taiwan’s government allowed major Apple Inc supplier Foxconn, as well as its high-profile billionaire founder Terry Gou, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and a Taiwanese Buddhist group to negotiate on its behalf for the doses.
While Mr Lai, a possible presidential candidate in 2024, was ostensibly abroad for the new Honduran president’s inauguration, he made good use of his time to engage in diplomacy with the US, Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier.
He briefly talked to US Vice-President Kamala Harris while in Honduras, drawing Chinese anger, and on Friday had a virtual meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
On Saturday, Mr Lai also spoke to three former members of the Trump administration, including former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Mr Matt Pottinger, Mr Trump’s then senior Asia adviser, Taiwan’s presidential office said.
That hour-long discussion focused on military issues including “the proper preparations” Taiwan should have to maintain security and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the statement said.