Taiwan has formal ties with only 15 countries worldwide, and Beijing, which asserts that the island does not have the right to diplomatic recognition, has stepped up efforts to coax them away.
Increasingly Beijing is using promises of vaccines to persuade governments to drop Taiwan.
Speaking on Wednesday, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said China, is “flexing its muscles” with its vaccine diplomacy, in particular in South and Central America, where Taiwan has five allies.
“If you look at those countries that are receiving the Chinese vaccines, whether it’s Brazil or Chile or El Salvador, I think it’s having lots of impact on our diplomatic allies,” Wu said.
Last month, Taipei said it was helping Paraguay, its sole remaining partner in South America according to Reuters, buy Covid-19 vaccines after protests from Paraguayans over their government’s handling of the pandemic.
Recently Beijing has put pressure on the South American country to ditch Taipei in exchange for shots.
China has denied trying to entice Paraguay with vaccines. However, reports claim that the Chinese government was “very active” in saying to the Paraguayan public that if the government in the capital Asunción severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the people would get millions of doses of China’s vaccines in return.
Wu said that Taiwan was forced to take the initiative to defend its links with Asunción.
“We spoke to like-minded countries, including Japan and the US, and India has been able to provide some Covaxin vaccines to Paraguay,” he said, referring to a vaccine developed by India’s Bharat Biotech.
India says it shipped 100,000 Covaxin doses to Paraguay on March 26 as a gift from the Indian government and promises there will be another 100,000 to come soon.
Wu commented: “The most important trend is the Indian government who is willing to help, and the US who has decided they want to help. I think this is going to relieve a lot of pressure for a lot of countries.”
The US, India, Japan and Australia are currently working to counter China with a billion-dose vaccine pact.