There may be few countries like Taiwan that have to go through unnecessary hardship in combatting the COVID-19 crisis. The Chinese government and pro-Chinese figures in Taiwan are interfering with and obstructing the Taiwanese government’s measures to prevent epidemics. The Taiwanese government must tackle these challenges while addressing COVID-19.
Fortunately, Taiwan has received donations of vaccines from several countries in the midst of international isolation of Taiwan that is continuously being led by China. Although excluded from the World Health Organization, Taiwan is not an international orphan. However, as we shall see later, even warm-hearted international aid has been criticized by some opponents in Taiwan.
2. Taiwan has no stock of vaccine
As I mentioned in my article, “Unconsciously Careless, the Honor Student Failed: Looking at Coronavirus Reinfections in Taiwan” (published on May 30), the COVID-19 situation in Taiwan suddenly worsened after a series of infections from the end of April to the beginning of May this year. As a result, the focus of Taiwan’s epidemic prevention has already shifted to vaccines. As the COVID-19 crisis spreads, Taiwanese citizens need to protect themselves with vaccines in addition to their personal efforts, such as wearing masks and frequent cleaning and disinfection.
The problem is that the amount of vaccine adequate to protect the entire population of Taiwan has not been secured. The shortage of vaccines and the resulting low vaccination rate (vaccine coverage) have become a major stumbling block to Taiwan’s efforts to control the pandemic.
As of July 1, the vaccination rate in Taiwan was only 8%. In addition, vaccines should be imported as soon as possible to solve the shortage. China’s interference, however, hampered the procurement process. Moreover, private companies in Taiwan began producing vaccines last year, and had already started the first phase of clinical trials around August last year. They failed, however, to keep up with the deterioration of the COVID-19 pandemic situation this year.
As Taiwan has difficulty procuring vaccines from abroad and has not been able to produce vaccines yet, Taiwan dropped from 5th to 44th in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking. The public is also very concerned about the shortage of vaccines. This was reflected in the plummeting approval ratings of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government. A public opinion poll released by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation on June 23 showed that the approval rating of the DPP dropped to 22.6%, the lowest since the DPP took office. 
3. Politicization of the vaccine shortage problem
In other words, the quality of health governance has political influence or consequences. Political consequences are also reflected in the interaction between the ruling and opposition parties. In this case, the shortage of vaccines prompted the opposition parties to criticize the ruling party for being “incompetent.” For example, Ting Shou-chung (the Kuomintang), who lost the Taipei mayoral election in 2018, stated “The Tsai Ing-wen administration is incompetent in purchasing vaccines.” Chiang Chi-chen, leader of the Kuomintang, also ventured to say, “an incompetent government.” 
Indeed, other countries have experienced several waves of the COVID-19 pandemic with many casualties before the current spread of COVID-19. The opposition parties in Taiwan, therefore, criticized the Tsai Ing-wen administration for its failure to learn from foreign experience and the negligence of preparation.
In reality, it is an exaggeration to say that the Taiwanese government has so far made no preparations. It is true, however, that there is a shortage of vaccines. Ironically, Taiwan’s current predicament of a shortage of vaccines stemmed from its successful efforts to control the pandemic. In other words, because the number of infected people remained low over a long period, herd immunity has not been a target of the epidemic prevention measures, and Taiwanese citizens were less willing to receive vaccination, so there was no need to prepare many vaccine doses with an expiration date.
4. China’s “vaccine united front”
Due to political issues between China and Taiwan, non-political issues related to cross-strait (China-Taiwan) relations tend to be politicized in Taiwan. Vaccines are no exception.
The cross-strait vaccine issue can be seen from two perspectives. One is that China uses vaccines as a tool to win the hearts of Taiwanese people. The other is that China prevents Taiwan from acquiring vaccines other than Chinese ones. In this article, we refer to the former as the “vaccine united front” and the latter as “vaccine isolation.”
With regard to the former, as long as China produces and exports vaccines itself, China wants Taiwan, which lacks a sufficient number of vaccines, to use them. China will want people in Taiwan to feel gratitude for the “favor from their home country” after vaccination. In relation to this, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of China, announced at a press conference (May 26) that private organizations in Shanghai and Jiangsu were going to provide vaccines to Taiwan free of charge. 
The point is that Taiwanese citizens are concerned about the efficacy of Chinese vaccines and few people want to use Chinese vaccines. After all, there is little medical evidence that Chinese vaccines are more effective than other vaccines. In addition, there have been many cases of infections and even deaths after receiving shots of Chinese vaccines.
For example, in March this year, the Polish Health Minister announced that he did not recommend Chinese vaccines because efficacy had not been scientifically proven. Former Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra and his wife were also infected despite getting shots of a Chinese vaccine last year (2020). In Indonesia, of 26 physicians who were infected and died in June this year, 10 had been inoculated with vaccines made by Sinovac in China. In China’s Liaoning Province, it was said that even local government officials were too afraid to get shots of vaccines from their own country. 
In these circumstances, the Chinese government (Taiwan Affairs Office) announced on June 11 that Taiwanese citizens could receive vaccination on the Mainland, as if to motivate Taiwanese to receive shots of Chinese vaccines. Needless to say, this is the Chinese government’s attempt to manipulate their image. If Taiwanese believe this, and are actually inoculated with Chinese vaccines, it will be one step forward and score points for the united front.
5. Taiwan’s response to China’s vaccine united front: Criticism and acts in concert
The Taiwanese government (Mainland Affairs Council) accused Beijing of using both hard-line and soft-line tactics for the united front to block Taiwan from obtaining vaccines and encourage Taiwanese citizens to accept Chinese vaccines. 
By contrast, some figures in the opposition parties are acting as if in concert with China’s vaccine unified front. For example, Hung Hsiu-chu, former leader of the Kuomintang, wrote on her Facebook page on June 28 that she was in China to attend the Cross-Strait Youth Development Forum and would soon receive a shot of Chinese vaccine. Later, in an exclusive interview with Shanghai media The Paper, Hung stated that she trusted Chinese-made vaccines, and insulted the Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung, who has been working for the past one and a half years to protect Taiwan from the COVID-19 crisis, by saying that he did not have a background in public health. In addition to Hung, there are also some unification activists who are pressing the Taiwanese government to accept Chinese vaccines now. One example is Chang An-lo, leader of the Chinese Unification Promotion Party (former organized crime figure). This shows that the shortage of vaccines in Taiwan has already been a weapon for the opposition parties in Taiwan to attack the Tsai Ing-wen administration.
6. “A friend in need is a friend indeed”
There are always both positives and negatives. On the darkness of international isolation by China, light suddenly shined down. In return for donations for the 3/11 disaster, the Japanese government decided to provide vaccine to Taiwan free of charge, and 1.2 million doses of AZ (AstraZeneca) vaccine arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on June 4, which is a historic day. The United States government also announced the free provision of vaccines to Taiwan, and 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine arrived in Taiwan on June 20. In addition, Lithuania announced the donation of 20,000 doses to Taiwan.
Needless to say, the Taiwanese government has welcomed and thanked the international community very much for the support. President Tsai Ing-wen and others in Taiwan’s public and private sectors expressed gratitude by quoting the Western proverb “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” 
It would not be particularly surprising to the international community that China has long sought to isolate Taiwan, and that approaching Taiwan entails the risk of China’s retaliation. That is why the fact that Japan, which is similarly shadowed by China, and even Lithuania, which is a small country in the Russian sphere of influence with a population of only 2.8 million, took the risk of reaching out to Taiwan deserves praise and thanks. Nothing would be more encouraging than this for Taiwan in the midst of the bitter battle with COVID-19. Taiwanese society will never forget this obligation.
7 .“Vaccine isolation” by China
While operating the vaccine unified front against Taiwan, China is trying to prevent Taiwan from obtaining non-Chinese vaccines.
For example, Taiwan initially tried to purchase a vaccine made by BNT (BioNTech) of Germany, but failed because China interfered. Although the Taiwanese government tried to directly purchase the vaccine from BNT’s head office, China insisted that the purchase would have to be done through Fosun in Shanghai because Fosun had the representation rights in Asia for the BNT vaccine. Furthermore, when the contract between Shanghai Fosun and BNT was disclosed, it was revealed that the representation rights of Fosun did not cover Taiwan. Of course, Beijing has not admitted that they interfered with the purchase. The U.S. White House Spokesman, however, clearly commented at a regular press conference, without specifically mentioning China, that “they (Taiwan) were being cut off from access to vaccines.” 
Moreover, having witnessed the donation of vaccines from Japan and the United States, China could not help but feel uncomfortable. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian condemned the donation of vaccines as an intervention in Chinese internal affairs and political manipulation with the assistance of vaccines, accusing the Taiwanese government of blocking the supply of Chinese vaccines. 
8. Even international aid does not stop attacks on the DPP government
Although the supply of vaccines from Japan and the United States has alleviated the shortage of vaccines in Taiwan to some extent, this has not helped the DPP government escape criticism.
Lucifer Chu, an online influencer from Taiwan, argues that the DPP government deliberately did not ask Japan for a sufficient number of vaccine doses, but requested only 1 million doses, in order to protect the market of Taiwanese vaccines under development. To prove the correctness of his own argument, he incorrectly translated the remarks of Masahisa Sato, a member of the House of Councilors, on TV into Chinese to distort understanding. 
Mr. Sato: As we saw earlier, the number of infections in Taiwan is 700 or 500 at the maximum. It doesn’t mean infections have spread all over Taiwan, but rather mainly around Taipei and New Taipei, so it’s not that urgent, and they will also obtain 2 million doses of AstraZeneca in June. This is the expectation. Also, as there are plans for Taiwanese vaccines from 2 companies from July, 10 million doses at a time, for a total of (including double doses?) 20 million doses, we initially received a request for 1 million doses, for the time being for emergency.
佐藤先生：像剛才也提過，台灣本身的感染者的數字最多的時候也大約700或500。 然後，(傳染的範圍)並沒有遍及整個台灣，而是以台北市和新北市為中心，因此並不是那麼吃緊。 再加上AZ疫苗也預計在六月份進來200萬劑。 而台灣製的疫苗也從七月份起兩家公司準備一次1000萬劑，所以按照計畫來看總共會有2000萬劑的疫苗，於是只需要應急的100萬劑的數量，這就是當初的訊息。
As can be seen from the above, the last part of Sato’s remark, “1 million doses, for the time being for emergency” was mistranslated as “They only need 1 million doses for first-aid.” Chu probably wanted to use this mistranslation to create the impression that the DPP government has failed.
That’s not all. In order to claim that the government is neglecting the fact that citizens are dying due to the lack of vaccinations, Chu sent funeral flowers to the Central Epidemic Command Center with a card showing an old Chinese saying, meaning “Your salary is the fruit of the sweat and grease of the people. You can easily oppress the people, but you must be thankful for their hardships and be kind to them. If you forget this feeling and oppress the weak, you will be punished by God.” Of course, this act was also intended to create an impression of the DPP government’s “incompetence,” but it must have hurt the spirits of medical professionals working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced on June 25 that Japan would provide Taiwan with an additional 1 million doses of vaccine, the Kuomintang thanked Japan, but did not forget to release an arrow of criticism toward the DPP government, emphasizing that Japan’s additional offer was proof that it was the misfortune of all the people to have an incompetent leader. 
Furthermore, even Chang Hsien-yao, who served as the Special Deputy Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council in the previous Kuomintang administration, used the harsh expression that Taiwan receiving the donation of vaccines made them a “vaccine beggar,” and daringly disparaged the government by saying that the vaccines Japan donated to Taiwan were something even Japanese didn’t want to use. Ironically, Chang himself already received a shot of the AZ vaccine in late May. 
The cross-strait issues between China and Taiwan remain unresolved. Although Taiwan has finally achieved democratization after about 40 years of authoritarian rule after the World War II, there has been no way out of the cross-strait issues. Taiwan must always live under the threat from China and the pressure from pro-Chinese insiders. This is Taiwan’s “daily routine,” so to speak. The Taiwanese government must still continue to tackle COVID-19 in this daily routine. Faced with the environment of woes at home and abroad, the Tsai Ing-wen administration has no choice but to pursue a thorny path while fighting the war against COVID-19, which is combat to defeat an invisible enemy.
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