Japan Engages in Vaccine Diplomacy

1.24 million vaccine doses sent to Taiwan . . . 

Japan shipped 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan last Friday. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that the donation is an expression of appreciation and friendship as Taiwan sent much-needed aid to Japan immediately after the triple disaster in 2011 that crippled northeastern Japan. Tokyo considered sending its vaccines to Taiwan through the global COVAX program but decided to send them directly to save time. On Sunday, the United States announced that it would donate 750,000 vaccine doses to Taiwan but did not provide a timeline.

Taiwan’s dual challenge . . .

Taiwan has been struggling with the dual challenge of securing vaccines amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that began in May. Last month, Taipei accused Beijing of blocking a deal to secure vaccines directly from German-based BioNTech over the use of a word in the contract that is frequently translated into English as ‘country’ (我國). Beijing denied the allegation and said Taipei has rejected China’s vaccine donations. Taiwan is also exploring the production of U.S. vaccines domestically. It remains to be seen if heightened lockdown measures and vaccine rollout will prevent further outbreaks. Currently, about three per cent of the island’s 23.5 million people have received at least one dose, while the figure stands at 62 per cent for Canada.

Japan to step up vaccine donations?

Japan’s shipments to Taiwan may be the first in its emerging vaccine diplomacy. Even though its vaccination program has been slow to roll out (10.9 per cent of the population has received at least one dose as of today), Japan says it has enough supply of other vaccines to cover its needs, so it is now looking to support global vaccination efforts. Next on its list of recipients is Vietnam, which is also dealing with a surge in cases while experiencing difficulty securing vaccine doses. The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that Japan would also send vaccines to Malaysia later this month and consider similar donations to Pacific Islands countries. With Japan already stepping up to share its vaccine surplus with those in need, it raises the question, what will Canada do with its surplus doses?