The German biotech company BioNTech urged Taiwan to remove the word “country” from a joint press release that would have announced a now-scrapped vaccine deal between the East Asian nation and BioNtech, Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Thursday.
Taiwan’s health ministry began talks with BioNTech to secure supplies of its Chinese coronavirus vaccine — which it produces jointly with the U.S.-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer — but those negotiations ended in January over the wording of a draft press release, Chen revealed at a regular press briefing in Taipei on May 27. The Chinese company Fosun Pharmaceuticals is also a partner in the development of the vaccine.
BioNTech on December 31, 2020, “provided a final version of a vaccine contract” to Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) “which the center signed and returned on January 6,” Chen said, as quoted by the Taipei Times.
“The next day, the center and the company exchanged views on what information would be disclosed about the deal, as the contract had included restrictions on what could be shared,” the health minister added.
The CECC on January 8 provided BioNTech “with a draft news release in Mandarin and English” announcing the vaccine deal “to which the company initially said it had no objection,” according to Chen. Just four hours later, however, BioNTech allegedly sent the CECC a letter center saying it “strongly recommends” the center remove the words “my country” from the statement “that had appeared in the Mandarin version of the draft.”
Chen said the CECC “immediately revised the wording to ‘Taiwan,'” but received notice from BioNTech on January 15 that the completion of the vaccine contract “would be delayed by weeks due to a reassessment of global vaccine supply and an adjustment to the supply schedule.”
“It’s crystal clear to me that the contract was finalized,” Chen told reporters on Thursday.
“There’s no problem within the contract. The problem was something outside of the contract,” the health minister added, without elaborating. BioNTech has declined to comment on the alleged incident.
China considers Taiwan a renegade territory and has vowed to “reunify” the island with China by force, if necessary. Beijing objects to any official references to Taiwan as a “country,” despite the fact that Taiwan operates successfully as an independent nation with its own constitution, government, and military. The Chinese Communist Party has never in its history governed Taiwan.
Chen’s revelations on Thursday support earlier remarks made by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday regarding the CECC’s doomed BioNTech vaccine deal.
“We had almost completed the contract signing with the German manufacturer at one point, but it has been delayed till now because China has interfered,” Tsai wrote in a statement posted to her official Facebook page.