Japan will provide Taiwan with about 1.24 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Britain's AstraZeneca Plc, government sources said Thursday, as the self-ruled island struggles to procure shots.
The vaccine will be transported via aircraft on Friday, according to the sources. "There is an urgent need for Taiwan (to procure vaccines) until it can establish a domestic production system in July," Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in parliament earlier in the day.
Taiwan, which has been grappling with a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases since May, has blamed China for difficulties in securing COVID-19 vaccines.
It said this week China intervened in its purchase talks with BioNTech SE, Pfizer Inc.'s German coronavirus vaccine development partner, when it had been close to securing a vaccine deal with the company.
Even with its offer to Taiwan, Japan, which launched its inoculation program in February, will have enough shots for all of its residents aged 16 and older by using vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna Inc.
Japan has secured enough AstraZeneca doses for 60 million people and approved the use of the vaccine last month. However, it does not intend to use it immediately due to rare cases of blood clots being reported overseas, according to the health ministry.
"At a time of trouble, we need to help each other," Motegi said in parliament in response to a question from an opposition lawmaker, noting that Taiwan quickly sent donations following the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have called on the government to swiftly supply Taiwan with the vaccine to deepen ties with the island, claiming China is using vaccine exports to expand its influence.
In a videoconference hosted by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said, "We really appreciate that the Japanese government is seriously considering providing Taiwan with vaccines." But he declined to elaborate further.
He also said China's "vaccine diplomacy" is creating divisions in the international community, adding the country provides its domestically manufactured vaccines and other pandemic relief aid "to those who are willing to accept political partnership with Beijing."
Wu said China then uses its influence to "lure or pressure those allies of Taiwan and the United States to lean toward Beijing" for political gain.
The tension between China and Taiwan regarding coronavirus vaccines comes as concern has been growing over Beijing's stepped-up military pressure on Taipei. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.
China's assertiveness led the Japanese and U.S. leaders to affirm the importance of "peace and stability" across the Taiwan Strait in a statement issued in April.
In an online summit Wednesday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to extend $800 million on top of an initial offer of $200 million for the U.N.-backed COVAX Facility aimed at ensuring a fairer distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between countries.