Tokyo is donating more than one million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines to Taiwan, Japan’s foreign minister announced Friday, as Taipei struggles to secure jabs, accusing China of interference.
The move is likely to stir controversy with Beijing, which views democratic and self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and works to keep the island diplomatically isolated.
“We have received requests from various countries and areas for the provision of vaccines,” Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters in Tokyo.
“At this point, we have finished the arrangement for the request from Taiwan. And we will deliver free of charge 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines that have been produced in Japan,” he added.
He said the vaccine would be handled through the territory’s embassy equivalent and would arrive in Taiwan later today.
In a statement, Taiwan’s foreign ministry welcomed the move, pointedly emphasising that the neighbours “share the universal values of freedom and democracy.”
It comes as Taiwan battles a sudden surge of cases after having one of the world’s best pandemic responses.
Infections have jumped in recent weeks to nearly 10,000 with 166 deaths after a cluster initially detected among airline pilots spread.
Taiwan wants to roll out mass inoculations in the next few months by setting up thousands of community vaccination stations to administer one million shots weekly, but it is struggling to secure enough doses.
It has pre-order deals for around 30 million shots, but has so far received just 726,600 AstraZeneca doses and 150,000 Moderna shots for its population of 23.5 million.
Taiwan is receiving doses through the Covax programme and is included in plans outlined by Washington this week to distribute 80 million doses globally.
But President Tsai Ing-wen has explicitly accused China of having “interfered” with efforts to secure Pfizer doses.
Japan has secured AstraZeneca doses sufficient for its 60 million people, but is not administering the formula despite approving it, as concerns linger about rare blood clots.
Instead, it is prioritising administration of the Pfizer and Moderna formulas and has secured enough of both to potentially jettison its AstraZeneca stock.