By Austin Babb and Jason Wu
Taiwan Secures COVID Vaccines
As of February 21, Taiwan has secured around 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from three different sources. It is expected to begin a rollout of the vaccine by early March, according to Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung.
Taiwan will obtain 10 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, five million Moderna vaccines, and 4.76 million vaccines through the World Health Organization-led COVAX program. In addition, German vaccine maker BioNTech has said that another five million doses of its vaccine will be supplied to Taiwan, despite concerns of alleged Chinese political interference.
Two other vaccines developed by domestic manufacturers Medigen Vaccine Biologics and United BioPharma are currently undergoing phase II clinical trials. Chen said the two local manufacturers can provide five to 10 million vaccines each, potentially reaching the government’s goal of 45 million total doses. Domestic vaccines will be ready for rollout by July, according to Chen.
On February 26, Premier Su Tseng-chang announced that all 4.76 million doses of the COVAX vaccines are expected to arrive in April. Vaccine administration could begin as soon as seven days after its arrival, with medical workers first in line for inoculation, followed by police, social welfare workers, and the military.
Taiwan Mentioned in Biden-Xi Call
U.S. President Joe Biden held his first phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping ahead of the Lunar New Year, during which Biden expressed the U.S.’ objections to mounting Chinese military pressure against Taiwan.
In a statement following the call, the White House said Biden “underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, the crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan.”
Biden’s call echoes the State Department’s statement of support for Taiwan earlier this year against the backdrop of increased incursions by China’s military into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). The department affirmed its “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan’s security, prosperity, and democracy.
New WTO Head Pledges Support
Taiwanese authorities congratulated Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala last month on her election as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou highlighted Okonjo-Iweala’s vast experience in global trade and economics. Ou stressed Taiwan’s support of free trade and a rules-based system, as well as its commitment to work with the WTO to strengthen multilateral trade. The new Director-General took office on March 1.
During her election campaign, Okonjo-Iweala twice met virtually with Taiwan representatives to discuss WTO members’ rights and welfare, as well as how to balance the influence of major economies. In these talks, Okonjo-Iweala said she intends to work on improving participation for Taiwan and other WTO members.
The talks and Okonjo-Iweala’s comments mark progress for Taiwan in the WTO despite a less than auspicious start in the organization. Taiwan was originally excluded from the body but was able to join in 2002 under the name “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu.”