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External Affairs

India Supplied Covaxin to Paraguay to Stave Off China Lure, Claims Taiwan

China had been publicly stating that Paraguay – Taiwan's diplomatic ally – would be able to receive COVID-19 vaccines, if it severed ties with Taiwan, foreign minister Joseph Wu claimed.

New Delhi: India reportedly helped Taiwan maintain relations with its diplomatic ally, Paraguay, by supplying it with Covaxin, at a time when the South American nation was tempted by Chinese offers of a vaccine, Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu claimed on Wednesday.

Taiwan has formal diplomatic relations with only 15 countries. As part of the One China policy, Beijing automatically cuts off ties with any nation that recognises Taiwan as a country.

According to Reuters, Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu said that China had been using supply of vaccines to put pressure on its diplomatic relations.

“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 a lot of impact on our diplomatic allies,” he said.

This was apparent in Paraguay, where Wu claimed that China had been “very active” in publicly stating that it would be able to receive millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines, if it severed ties with Taiwan.

When US secretary of state Anthony Blinken spoke with the Paraguayan president on March 14, his message had been to resist temptation. “Mr. Blinken has been very firm, telling Marito Abdo: ‘Look, your allies are Taiwan and us’,” foreign minister Euclides Acevedo said on TV, as per Bloomberg. “But we ask these strategic allies for proof of their love. Before holding hands, you have to at least take us to the movies.”

A US state department spokesperson told Bloomberg that the US was working with “Paraguay and like-minded partners to support pandemic response efforts”.

On March 22, Paraguyan foreign ministry issued a statement that the country had been offered vaccines with the condition of breaking ties with Taiwan. But, it also added that these “bidders” were “not official in nature and whose legitimacy or connection with the government of the People’s Republic of China are not proven”.

Also read: For Many Countries, the Road To COVID-19 Vaccine Inoculation Remains a Long One

Paraguay’s desperate attempt to obtain vaccines led Taiwan to seek help from other countries, with India among them. “In the last few weeks, we have been speaking to like-minded countries, including Japan, the United States, India, etc., and India fortunately has been able to provide some Covaxin vaccines to Paraguay,” said the Taiwan foreign minister on Wednesday.

There has been no official reaction from the Ministry of External Affairs so far.

On March 30, Indian external affairs minister had tweeted – “Never too far for friendship” – with photographs of the arrival of the vaccine in Paraguay.

 

Paraguyan president Abdo had expressed thanks to India for the supply of 100,000 doses of vaccine. He also wrote that the plan was to move towards immunisation of all frontline personnel and then the population at risk.

 

A week later, Paraguayan health ministry’s official Twitter account posted that it was still awaiting authorisation from the regulatory body to enable the use of Covaxin in the country. It added that Mexico’s regulatory authorities have already authorised the use of Covaxin.

 

India has only supplied Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin to “two or three countries”. Last week, Brazil’s regulator ANVISA had turned down Bharat Biotech’s application to import Covaxin.

India follows the ‘One China’ policy and has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. There are trade offices in both capitals, which act as the de-facto embassies.

In the last one year, when ties with China had deteriorated due to the military stand-off, Taiwan had a conspicuous public diplomacy campaign on its social media accounts that targeted Indians.

In July 2020, India’s representative office, India Taipei Association (ITA) had posted a condolence message on the passing of former Taiwan president Lee Teng Hui, who had been a thorn in China’s side, and described him as ‘Mr. Democracy’.

The post raised eyebrows as the ITA had previously never treaded into the sensitive area of cross-Strait relations and was posted just two weeks after the violent Galwan Valley clash in Ladakh.

This week, India’s foreign office spokesperson condoled the death from the train accident in Taiwan. This was probably the first time that the Ministry of External Affairs had mentioned Taiwan by name on its social media accounts.