More than one million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine donated by Japan arrived in Taiwan on Friday, as the island struggles to secure jabs and accuses China of interference.
The move stirred anger in 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,” Japanese foreign minister 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.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry welcomed the move, pointedly emphasising that Taipei and Tokyo “share the universal values of freedom and democracy”.
Its health minister Chen Shih-chung later confirmed the jabs had arrived.
“This is the largest batch of vaccines we have received and I believe it will be very helpful for our overall pandemic prevention,” he said.
Beijing accused Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of “placing political manipulations above people’s lives” by rejecting Chinese vaccines, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
President Tsai Ing-wen has accused China of having “interfered” with efforts to secure Pfizer doses, which are distributed in the Greater China region by a Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company.
Tsai said in televised remarks that her government will keep negotiating with countries to ensure sufficient and steady vaccine supplies.
“It’s not just us, all governments are fighting to get hold of vaccines. Due to Taiwan’s very difficult international situation, there could still be variables before the vaccines are being loaded onto an airplane.”
Beijing has stepped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taipei since Tsai entered office five years ago, as she refuses to acknowledge its stance that the island is part of “one China”.
Taiwan is currently locked out by China from the World Health Organization.
The donation 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 more than 10,000, with 187 deaths.
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.
The island of 23.5 million has pre-order deals for around 30 million shots, but had received just 726,600 AstraZeneca doses and 150,000 Moderna shots before the Japanese donation.
Taiwan is also included in plans outlined by Washington this week to distribute 80 million doses globally.