WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A senior State Department official said on Thursday the United States was working with Taiwan regulators to ensure COVID-19 vaccines will be delivered “in very short order” to the democratically self-ruled island claimed by China.
Washington has promised to donate 750,000 vaccine doses to Taiwan as the United States and China have faced off with efforts to deepen geopolitical clout through so-called “vaccine diplomacy.”
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has repeatedly offered to send vaccines to the island, which is battling a spike in domestic infections, but has expressed concern about the safety of Chinese shots.
“In very short order we do expect to have those vaccines on their way to Taiwan and hopefully into people’s arms shortly thereafter,” Jonathan Fritz, deputy assistant secretary of state for China, Mongolia, and Taiwan Coordination, told a Senate hearing.
Asked if the previously pledged 750,000 doses would be delivered within weeks, Fritz said he hoped it would be “perhaps even sooner than that” but could not give a specific date.
Beijing has been whittling away at Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, down to just 15 countries. Washington is nervous about an increased Chinese presence in Latin America and the Pacific where those allies are concentrated.
Fritz said China had been “very aggressively using vaccine donations as a lever to induce more of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners to switch recognition.”
“We do engage very intensively with Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic partners, and point out to them the many benefits of having a reliable partner that in fact does not use, whether it’s vaccines or investments or any other lever, as a tool of political coercion,” he said.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney noted an urgency to get more vaccines to Taiwan, up to 2 million doses, to counter Chinese government misinformation that the United States did not care about Taiwan.
“I would strongly encourage us to move as soon as we can to the higher number,” Romney said.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina; Editing by Richard Chang)