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The politics of Japan’s Taiwan vaccine donation | Coronavirus pandemic News



Tokyo, Japan – The Japanese government has injected itself into the increasingly tense confrontation in the Taiwan Straits.

Last Friday, Japan sent Taiwan 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 jab, after Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking the territory’s access to vaccines amid its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.

Beijing regards Taiwan – a self-governing island that lies 161km (100 miles) off the Chinese coast – as part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal. It has taken an increasingly assertive stance since Tsai was first elected in 2016, claiming that she wants independence for the island’s 23.6 million people, and tensions have risen as traditional allies, including the United States, rallied to support Taiwan.

Japan has for decades taken a quieter approach.

But with China’s growing economic and military might and its continuing challenge to Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, known to the Chinese as the Diaoyutai Islands, the government in Tokyo is changing tack.

“The Japanese conservatives have really seized upon the Taiwan issue as a way of drawing lines with the Chinese,” said Daniel Sneider, lecturer in East Asian Studies at Stanford University.

China’s rise has worried many in Japan.

In recent years, Beijing has become increasingly assertive in the Asia Pacific region, showcasing its military might in the East China Sea and the South China Sea to back its maritime and territorial claims in the disputed seas.

Taiwan, which also lays claim to the South China Sea, has also felt the heat from Beijing.

Over the past year, the Chinese military has sent fighter jets into the island’s airspace on a near-daily basis, with 25 Chinese military aircraft flying through on April 12.

‘Interest in Taiwan’s security’

In a bid to counter China’s growing clout, Japan is forging security ties with countries like Australia and India, and reinforcing its alliance with the United States, which also sees Beijing as a strategic competitor.

When US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met in Washington, DC, in April, China was the top focus of their talks. And for the first time in more than half a century, the leaders’ joint statement included a reference to “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.

Additionally, when Japan’s defence ministry released a draft of its annual “white paper” last month, it mentioned the Taiwan issue for the first time ever.

“The stability of the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for the security of Japan and the stability of the international community,” the draft document said.

Beijing condemned the Japan-US stance on Taiwan as interference in its internal affairs, accusing the two countries of “ganging up to form cliques and fanning bloc confrontation”. Chinese officials have also previously described concerns over its military and economic clout as part of a “Cold War mentality” that seeks to contain it.

It is in this broad context that Japan, which once ruled Taiwan as a colony, jumped to the island’s aid as it scrambled to secure supplies of the coronavirus vaccine.

As Sneider put it, “It’s about demonstrating that Japan has an interest in the continued de facto independence and security of Taiwan. It’s that simple.”

Beijing has denounced Japan’s moves.

When the first reports of Tokyo considering sending vaccines to Taipei emerged in late May, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded sharply. “We are firmly against those who exploit the pandemic to put on political shows or even meddle in China’s internal affairs,” he said. “I’ve noticed that Japan can barely ensure adequate supply of vaccines at home.”

He added, “I would like to stress that vaccine assistance should be restored to its origin purpose, which is to save lives, and should not be reduced to a tool for selfish political gains.”

Wang’s contention that politics are involved was not entirely misplaced.

Several reports in both the Japanese and Taiwanese media highlighted the role that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a longtime “China hawk,” had played in expediting the delivery of the vaccines to Taiwan.

Reporting on June 3, the Sankei Shinbun newspaper said Abe, who stepped down last September, had been closely involved in the discussions and noted Taiwan’s generous donations to Japan at the time of the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

‘Major win for Taiwan’

In Taiwan, the Japanese donation was a triumph for Tsai’s government.

Tsai, who received global praise for her handling of the pandemic early on, is facing public anger after a sudden surge in COVID-19 infections that began last month. To date, the island has recorded 11,968 infections and 333 deaths, of which the vast majority were reported in the past month.

With less than 3 percent of the Taiwanese public vaccinated, anger is growing over the shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

Taiwan says the crisis has been compounded by China.

On May 26, Tsai accused China of using its influence to block a large delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Beijing has denied the claim, however, and says Taiwan had in fact refused to accept its offer of vaccines. Wang, the spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, also accused Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of prioritising “political manipulation over anti-epidemic cooperation”.

Lev Nachman, a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan University, said the DPP faced a dilemma.

“The reality is that Taiwan needs vaccines,” he said, “and the Catch-22 is that the DPP government really can’t politically afford to take vaccines from the PRC.”

If the independence-leaning DPP were to turn to the mainland for help, he noted, it could undermine the party’s own legitimacy as a self-governing force.

But “by taking vaccines from Japan, that’s much less politically loaded than taking vaccines from the PRC, which is, of course, a major win for Taiwan,” said Nachman.

Moreover, the process of bringing in the vaccines from Japan allowed various rival DPP politicians to make a rare show of unity, signalling that they had acted responsibly for the benefit of the people – although Taiwanese authorities still have quite some distance to go to secure vaccines for the island’s entire population.

Even the supporters of the Beijing-friendly opposition party, the Kuomintang, are feeling “quiet appreciation” for Japan, said Nachman.

Many Taiwanese also took to social media to show their gratitude when news of the Japanese donation came. Several people posted photos of themselves travelling in Japan in the pre-pandemic era as a means to demonstrate their appreciation for and closeness with their northern island neighbours, according to Brian Chee-Shing Hioe, editor of New Bloom, an online magazine covering youth culture and politics in Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific.

Hioe also weighed in on the wider strategic context, noting that Japan’s donation was followed a couple of days later by a US pledge of a further 750,000 doses.

“The US was coordinating this behind the scenes,” Hioe asserted, “to cement this relation between Japan and Taiwan, which is useful for regional security, for American purposes.”

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Reckoning with Laughter: Noam Shuster returns to Israel




About to make it big in the US, Israeli comedian Noam Shuster returns home to face her toughest audience yet.

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Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed: The Nobel Prize winner who went to war




This feeling of marginalisation, particularly among the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, fuelled a wave of demonstrations. Mr Abiy, an Oromo himself, was promoted to the top job and immediately set about addressing concerns in a dizzying period of reforms.

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600 doses of stolen COVID-19 vaccines recovered at 2 private clinics




Police have recovered 600 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from two private pharmacies in Kampala. 10 suspects were also arrested in the two-day operation following a tip-off from a concerned citizen.    

A police officer, who was involved in the operation, intimated to URN that they carried out raids on First Pharmacy Mulago-Wandegeya and Victoria Pharmacy in Ntinda. He explains that they first sent operatives to both facilities under the disguise that they were travellers looking for Covid-19 vaccination and certificates and got assurance that the service was available.    

“We swiftly stormed these places in Wandegeya and Ntinda, and the stolen vaccines were found there and of course arrested some suspects from there,” he said.

He says that during the raid on First Pharmacy, they intercepted one of the employees who was running away with some materials in the bag.  

“We forced him to open the bag for searching. Upon opening, documents that looked like Covid-19 vaccination certificates dropped down,” he said.

He says that they searched the pharmacy where they recovered some exhibits and arrested some suspects. According to police, they also conducted another raid on Victoria Pharmacy, recovered several doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and arrested five suspects. 

Kampala Metropolitan deputy police spokesperson, Luke Owoyesigyire confirmed the arrests but declined to reveal the identities of the suspects. 

“It’s true about that operation intelligence in Bukoto, we found 600 doses of the vaccine, in these two pharmacies and also ministry of Health vaccination cards and other documents” said Owoyesigyire’’. 

He says the suspects are locked up at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) Kireka. According to police, similar operations are still ongoing after discovering that unscrupulous people stole Covid-19 vaccines from the ministry of Health storage facility and are now busy selling them to the public on the black market.

At a press conference held today, however, First pharmacy demanded an apology from the police, claiming no raid was conducted at their facility or vaccines recovered. 

More than 50 pe rcent of the 964,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines donated by Covax Facility and India have already been used. Recently, President Museveni in his televised address said that the government is preparing to get Johnson and Johnson vaccines from the USA and Cuba since India suspended exports. Unicef announced that another 170,000 doses would be arriving in the country in two weeks. 


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