TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's top envoy to Berlin on Tuesday (July 12) revealed that 5 million Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses would have arrived in Taiwan earlier if it had not been for a Chinese national who scuttled the deal over semantics.
On Monday (July 12), news broke that Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group (Fosun Pharma) had signed a deal with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC, 台積電) and Foxconn Technology founder Terry Gou's (郭台銘) Yonglin Foundation (富士康) for 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be donated to Taiwan. Local media reports estimate the jabs will arrive at some point in October, but a much earlier deal with Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) would have resulted in vaccines in the arms of Taiwanese now had there not been "political interference" from Beijing, according to Taiwan’s representative to Germany Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉).
On his Facebook page on Tuesday Shieh wrote that negotiations between BioNTech and the CECC had reached such an advanced phase that a press release slated for Jan. 6 was to announce that 5 million doses would be sent to Taiwan in multiple batches. An initial batch of 600,000 doses was to have been delivered in March, followed by 1 million in April, 1 million in May, 1 million in June, and 1.4 million in July.
However, Shieh says that on Jan. 8, a different representative from BioNTech suddenly began communicating with Taiwanese authorities. He said that the new representative sent a flurry of messages in a mix of English and the simplified Chinese characters used in China.
According to Shieh, the representative insisted that the Chinese term "our country" (我國) in the press release be changed to "Taiwan." He said that despite cooperating with the requests, the deal fell through with "the bricks crumbling and the wall collapsing."
Shieh's account is consistent with CECC head Chen Shih-chung's (陳時中) description of the aborted agreement on May 27. The CECC dutifully changed "our country" to "Taiwan" in the version drafted on Jan. 9, but on Jan. 15, BioNTech informed the center that there had been a "reassessment of vaccine supply" and that the signing would need to be postponed several weeks, with no further progress ever reported.
The Liberty Times on June 21 alleged that the impasse had been created by interference from Xu Shanshan (徐姍姍), a Chinese senior executive at BioNTech's U.S. headquarters and vice president of Asia Pacific and China Development. The newspaper alleges that Xu is the figure who raised objections over the term "our country."
Shieh said there is no need to mince words about the failed deal at this point: "of course it was 'political interference.'" He then added "Who did it? That goes without saying."
The envoy noted that many pundits had said Fosun Pharma obtained the rights to be the exclusive agent for BioNTech in the Greater China region and that Taiwan's attempts to bypass the company and deal directly with BioNTech would "of course be shot down." He countered that argument by pointing out that vaccines that receive emergency use authorization are "drugs" and are not yet "commodities."
In other words, "emergency use authorization" and "agent" are actually mutually exclusive concepts, reasoned Shieh. He concluded that "these vaccines can only be sold to 'a country!'"
Shieh wrote that he has told German officials that the use of the concept of "Greater China," especially when more than a thousand Chinese missiles are aimed at Taiwan, in the procurement of life-saving vaccines "is really ridiculous."