Over the past several months, Taiwan has been a textbook study of COVID-19 vaccination diplomacy in action.
Looking back on the major vaccine-related events of this summer could provide some insight into how the growing divergence between the US and the People’s Republic of China might develop. Evaluating how countries have acted in relation to Taiwan and vaccines also might show what portends for the future as Taiwan’s domestic vaccines are set to be produced.
When the pandemic began and the race to develop a viable vaccine commenced, it was obvious that the countries that developed vaccines first would use them as an influence tool around the globe. Whether through sale or donation, vaccines would (and have) become the currency of the world, likely until the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
The US and China (and Russia to a lesser extent) are the major power players in the ongoing vaccination diplomacy. Whenever these two countries are competing for something, naturally Taiwan, its status and how other countries treat it become elements of the competition.
Throughout the spring and summer, Taiwan has been involved in some of the most high-profile stories regarding vaccination diplomacy: the long and winding saga of signing a contract with BioNTech, which worked with Pfizer to develop one of the leading COVID-19 vaccines; Beijing’s attempt at poaching Paraguay with the promise of vaccines; Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s desire to expand relations with China in the hope of accessing more doses; and millions of doses donated to Taiwan by the US and Japan, as well as thousands more from Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
With Taiwan’s domestic Medigen vaccine receiving emergency use authorization from the government, there will likely be controversies regarding countries accepting or declining the Taiwan-made vaccine. It is almost a certainty that the already politicized COVID-19 vaccines will receive another controversial element simply because this one comes from Taiwan, and because some governments might be fearful of drawing Beijing’s ire. It is an unfortunate likelihood.