Germany’s BioNTech asked Taiwan to remove the word “country” from an announcement they planned to make on a Covid-19 vaccine sale to the island, the Taipei health minister said on Thursday.
Taipei blamed the collapse of the deal on China exerting pressure on the drugmaker.
Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news briefing the government had signed and sent back a “final contract” agreed with BioNTech after months of negotiations, and the two sides were on the verge of issuing a press release in January.
“BioNTech suddenly sent a letter, saying they strongly recommend us to change the word ‘our country’ in the Chinese version of the press release,” Chen said.
The government agreed to tweak the wording to “Taiwan” on the same day, he added.
A week later, Chen said, his government was informed by BioNTech the completion of the deal will be delayed due to a “revaluation of global vaccine supply and adjusted timelines”.
“There’s no problem within the contract. The problem was something outside of the contract,” he said, without elaborating.
Chen’s comments came a day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen directly accused China of blocking the deal with BioNTech.
Taiwan and China are arguing after Beijing offered vaccine doses to the Chinese-claimed island via Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, which has a contract to sell them in Greater China.
China considers Taiwan its own territory and strongly objects to any reference that implies Taiwan is a separate country.
Taiwan’s medical system is coming under increasing strain due to a spike in domestic infections with only about 1% of the population of more than 23 million vaccinated.
China has repeatedly said its vaccine offer is sincere and Taiwan should not put up political roadblocks.
Taiwan does not believe China is sincere in offering it vaccines and thinks Beijing is launching “political warfare” against the island, officials briefed on the matter told Reuters.
Using the word “country” for Taiwan is never a good move if your business is hoping to make a lot of money in China.
American movie star John Cena was forced to apologise to China after he referred to Taiwan as a country while promoting the next Fast & Furious film, in which he appears. The series is extremely popular in China and makes a lot of money for Hollywood.
Speaking in Mandarin as he talked about the upcoming film’s release date, he apparently said: “Taiwan is the first country that can watch.”
Then, for unspecified reasons Cena used the Chinese social network Weibo to apologise, calling his previous statement a “mistake”.
He said in Mandarin: “I have to say one thing which is very, very, very important: I love and respect China and Chinese people. I’m very sorry for my mistakes. Sorry. Sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Cena apparently learned Mandarin because he had a part in a Mandarin movie, and now speaks it well.
In the US, conservative figures have mocked Cena for making the apology.