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Chinese executive allegedly blocked Taiwan's purchase of BioNTech vaccines

Chinese executive accused by Taiwanese media of being 'cell' inside BioNTech imposing Beijing's will

Xu Shanshan. (University of California, Irvine photo)

Xu Shanshan. (University of California, Irvine photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Chinese businesswoman is being accused by Taiwanese media of blocking an agreement that would have enabled Taiwan to purchase the BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

On May 27 of this year, Central Epidemic Command Center head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) revealed that negotiations for the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine had run from Aug. 20 of last year until a mysterious stalemate occurred in January of this year. Chen said that on Jan. 8, four hours after the CECC and BioNTech appeared to be close to signing an agreement, the German firm "strongly recommended" that the CECC remove the words "our country" (我國) from the Chinese version of the press release.

The center changed "our country" to "Taiwan" in the version drafted on Jan. 9. However, on Jan. 15, BioNTech informed the center that there was a "reassessment of vaccine supply, that the timeline for signing the contract would be adjusted, and that it would need to be postponed for several weeks."

Chen emphasized that he believes there was no problem with the contract but that "the problem came from outside of the contract." Despite continued efforts by the CECC to acquire the vaccines, as well as attempts by Foxconn Technology founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Chairman Mark Liu (劉德音), there still appears to be no progress in obtaining the jabs from BioNTech.

Liberty Times on Monday (June 21) alleged that the impasse was created by interference by Chinese executive Xu Shanshan (徐姍姍). Xu, a native of China's Heilongjiang Province, is a senior executive at BioNTech's U.S. headquarters and is the vice president of Asia Pacific and China Development. She is a graduate of Peking University, obtained a doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, and took her current position at BioNTech in September or October of last year.

The newspaper alleges that Xu is the figure who suddenly raised objections with the use of the term "our country" on Jan. 8. It cited sources from within BioNTech as stating that she was sent by the company's Chinese partner Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (Group) Co., Ltd. and alleged that she serves as a "cell" for the Chinese firm pressing its agenda from within.

It pointed out that this model is not unique to BioNTech and that many large international companies now have Chinese cadres who have become an extension of Beijing's will. The news agency then criticized BioNTech for allowing a Chinese representative to overturn a finalized deal as the "equivalent to being completely controlled by China."

The article then claimed that Xu has also interfered with Gou's efforts to acquire the vaccine. It purported that Xu is the source of the meddling and that Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) is the instigator.

On June 18, the TAO adamantly reiterated Fosun's claim to have exclusive rights to the entire Greater China market for the vaccine, including China, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. TAO Spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) then claimed that Fosun has already been willing to provide vaccine doses to “Taiwanese compatriots.”