US senators promise vaccines for Taiwan amid China row

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Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, second right, gestures as he welcomes U.S. senators to his right Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, members of the Armed Services Committee on their arrival at the Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on Sunday, June 6, 2021. The three U.S. senators arrived in Taiwan to meet with senior government officials and discuss U.S.-Taiwan relations and other issues in a trip that is likely to anger China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and objects to Taiwan being called a country. (Pool Photo via AP)

TAIPEI – The U.S. will give Taiwan 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, part of President Joe Biden's move to share tens of millions of jabs globally, three American senators said Sunday, after the self-ruled island complained that China is hindering its efforts to secure vaccines as it battles an outbreak.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who made a three-hour stop in Taiwan with fellow Democrat Christopher Coons of Delaware and Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, said their visit underscores bipartisan U.S. support for the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own renegade territory. Taiwan faces a severe vaccine shortage and has geopolitical significance as a flashpoint in U.S.-China relations.

“I’m here to tell you that the United States will not let you stand alone,” Duckworth said at the airport after landing on a U.S. military transport plane. “We will be by your side to make sure the people of Taiwan have what they need to get to the other side of the pandemic and beyond.”

Taiwan was included on a long list of places announced last week that would receive 25 million doses from the United States in what the Biden administration says is the first tranche of at least 80 million doses to be distributed globally. Most of the first tranche, including Taiwan's, will be sent through COVAX, a U.N.-backed program to distribute vaccines to low and middle-income countries.

The island of 24 million people, which lies 160 kilometers (100 miles) off China's east coast, is desperate for vaccines after a sudden outbreak that started in late April caught authorities by surprise. Japan shipped 1.2 million doses to Taiwan on Friday, opting to skip the COVAX process in the interest of speed. It was unclear when the 750,000 American doses would arrive.

Taiwan has accused China of blocking its efforts to reach a deal with BioNTech to import the vaccine co-developed by the German company and Pfizer. Beijing has said it is willing to supply vaccines to Taiwan, including BioNTech, through Chinese partner Fosun, and that the island's government is to blame for putting politics above the lives of its people. Taiwanese law bans the import of Chinese-made medicines.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, welcoming the senators at the airport, said that Taiwan is fortunate to have like-minded countries showing support, which he said is about sustaining freedom and democracy in the face of autocracy.

“Taiwan is facing unique challenges in combating the virus," he said. "While we are doing our best to import vaccines, we must overcome obstacles to ensure that these life-saving medicine are delivered free from troubles of Beijing.”