Monday, May 24, 2021

Taiwan's problem isn't vaccines -- it's China (or: Reuters Sucks Again)


Lizards try to hide, but you can see them if you look closely

There's a big stink right now about Taiwan refusing BioNTech doses from Fosun, a Chinese company. To show you what's going on, allow me to deconstruct a half-assed Reuters article which is basically just copied from Xinhua (a propaganda arm of the CCP, not an actual news organization). 

This propaganda garbage from Beijing with no Taiwanese perspective whatsoever starts here:

Fosun signed a deal with BioNTech to exclusively develop and commercialise COVID-19 vaccine products developed using BioNTech's mRNA technology in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

BioNTech's development and distribution partner for the rest of the world is U.S. firm Pfizer Inc.  

What they don't say: why on Earth would anyone believe a Chinese company had the right to ink a deal with a foreign company over distribution rights in Taiwan?

Imagine if an American company signed a deal with a Swiss company to be the sole distributor of a product in Canada, without ever actually asking the Canadian government. 

Of course, we know why they did this: to try and force Taiwan to accept a Chinese-made deal, as though Taiwan were a part of China and had to abide by whatever contracts China signed. 

Is it any surprise that Taiwan is resisting this?

This isn't clarified in the Reuters piece because the quotes are lifted from Xinhua, the CCP's main propaganda outlet. The Reuters copy barely reads as original work. 

As a Facebook friend noted, Fosun doesn't produce this vaccine. They were provided with a huge number of doses -- or the option to buy them, it isn't clear -- and have said they intend to produce it locally in the future, but as of now they have access to millions of doses they cannot sell in China, because they're not licensed to. This is because China is sore that the rest of the world doesn't want its crappy domestically-produced vaccine -- it's a pride issue, they don't want to admit that the European vaccines are far better. 

Notably, the original deal appears to include doses for Hong Kong and Macau, not Taiwan (I've also asked around my local network as I know a lot of pharma people, and I'm not the only one who's noticed this).

Why was that deal later changed to include Taiwan (which I am quite certain happened)? Nobody seems willing to say, and Reuters doesn't seem particularly interested in finding out.

They do seem to be rather interested in what Fosun chairman Wu Yi-fang told Xinhua, however:


Wu said certain groups in Taiwan he did not name had been in touch for an emergency purchase of vaccines and the company was willing to "provide vaccine services to Taiwan compatriots".

"Taiwan compatriots" are not a real thing, but I digress.

Who are those "certain groups"? There is another name for them: compradores. Basically, rich Taiwanese business assholes who are willing to sell out their country so they can get richer. They probably stand to make a lot of money off of this Fosun deal. I've had personal run-ins with such people, and simply calling them "business assholes" is about as nice as I am able to be. Taiwan would be better off without them; I wish they'd just go live in their ugly mansions in China and leave this country alone.

In other words, "certain groups" is a phrase doing a lot of heavy lifting here and I'm not sure Ben Blanchard, Lincoln Feast and the Beijing newsroom are aware of it. 

It doesn't take a huge leap of logic to figure out which "certain groups" pressured which officials to include Taiwan in this big Fosun/BioNTech deal. I know "follow the money" is a cliche, but come on. Follow the damn money.

Did Reuters call a single soul in the Taiwanese government to ask what Taiwan's view of this was? 

I bet you an ugly mansion in China that they did not. 

Since last year, Fosun has been promoting vaccines for Taiwan, Wu said, adding they hope shots can arrive on the island soon to help prevent a resurgent spread of the virus.

If China really cared about getting vaccines to Taiwanese they would not have blocked the deal Taiwan was trying to make with BioNTech to begin with, you business asshole. 

Fosun did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

So, Xinreuters, when Fosun didn't call you back (and you knew they wouldn't), why didn't you call up any of the myriad people in Taiwan who would have talked to you about this country's perspective? 

Taiwan's government has said it is talking with BioNTech rather than Fosun, and that the two sides were on the verge of announcing a deal in December when BioNTech pulled the plug.

Taiwan has implied China was to blame for the failed deal, while China has blamed Taiwan for trying to circumvent Fosun.

Taiwan never agreed to be serviced by Fosun, and China has no right to force them to be. That's not "circumventing", just as I am not "circumventing" FamilyMart by going to 7-11 because I think their fantuan are better.  

The other thing this article doesn't mention: according to Chen Shih-chung, the Taiwanese government hasn't received any official application to sell these vaccines in Taiwan. How can the government agree to offer a product if the company that wants to provide it hasn't even asked the Ministry of Health and Welfare if they can do so?

It's almost as though Fosun, like the CCP, is pretending the Taiwanese government simply does not exist, while at the same time painting it as the entity creating obstacles.

In essence, it's a way of trying to force the Taiwanese government to accept, through backdoor maneuvers, that China has the right to negotiate for it.

There's another piece of information that doesn't quite fit neatly anywhere but I believe should be included: a Taiwanese company (Dongyang) was at one point looking into becoming the Taiwan distributor of this vaccine. There were questions about the cost, which the company would bear, compared to the quantity they'd acquire, and Dongyang pulled out. Was the markup too high, and if so, why (the article mentions that Chinese companies have a lot of power and this might have had something to do with it)? Should the Taiwanese government, knowing vaccines were needed, have stepped in and borne the costs? Was pulling out of the deal a mistake and if so, whose? 

I don't have answers to any of those questions, but it's worth noting that Fosun was not always considered by anyone to be the only possible distributor for BioNTech in Taiwan.

Finally, while all of this has been going on, Zuellig Pharma -- a company with offices across Asia, including Taiwan -- announced a deal in late April to supply much of Asia including Taiwan with the Moderna vaccine. The idea that Fosun is the only pathway to mRNA vaccines for Taiwanese is simply false, but Reuters doesn't seem particularly interested in that, either.

Of course, this has made its way into the Taiwanese Fake News for Aunties and Uncles network. Various critics -- including former KMT legislator and unificationist trashbag Tsai Cheng-yuan (Alex Tsai) called Chen "too passive", saying he has a "bad mentality", that he buys "inferior vaccines" (the truth is that Taiwan purchased the vaccines that were actually available to them). 

They cry out, "do Taiwanese only deserve inferior vaccines?" and point to the fact that currently, the Fosun vaccines are in fact made in Europe, not China (for now). Of course, critics neglect to mention that that might not always be the case.  

Apple Daily added that DPP legislator Wang Ting-yu is saying these doses are mostly set to expire in June or July and that Hong Kongers don't want them. There are rumors that they're defective reported by both Apply Daily and UpMedia, I can't verify the veracity of that accusation. Let's be clear: this could be fake news. Others have said the expiration is September -- the different dates are probably related to different batches.

That Hong Kongers don't want vaccines has been true for awhile, by the way. It's not vaccine hesitancy, as BioNTech is available. One does not need to get Sinovac (though about half the doses available are Sinovac, so someone has to get them and I wouldn't want it to be me). The trust issue is not with vaccines, but with the government. I don't blame them. If the Chinese government told me I needed to do something, I would endeavor to the best of my ability to do the exact opposite. And I love vaccines: I got AZ voluntarily! 

This has trickled down into my local community. I don't go out much due to the recent outbreak, but I do get electro-therapy on my back. While there, various aunties and uncles at my rehabilitation clinic have been complaining that Taiwan should just buy these vaccines. From the media, they seem to have the impression that it would be an easy negotiation for safe vaccines and Chen and "the DPP" are just being obstinate.

Chinese media seems happy to perpetuate this and make it seem like Taiwan simply doesn't want to buy from a Chinese company. And there are media consumers in Taiwan who are lapping it up. People are worried about this outbreak and looking for reasons to criticize, and to be fair, the CECC has not come back with a strong campaign to clarify the issue.

Of course neither the KMT (though they are not the only critics) and the CCP are ignoring the fact that 'taking' these doses -- and how would the government even so that if Fosun hasn't applied to offer them here? -- would be a de facto abrogation of Taiwan's sovereignty. It would, in effect, be admitting that the Chinese government has the ability to preside over a deal made with a Chinese company to distribute vaccines in Taiwan, and at no point do any Taiwanese officials need to be involved. 

You do see how that is an impossible path for Taiwan, yes?

It's not a surprise that Alex Tsai is a sort of compradore, or at least compradore-adjacent, and the KMT and CCP are essentially in cahoots -- at this point I consider to be the KMT a puppet or wholly-owned subsidiary of the CCP -- so of course this is how it would play out.

Let me summarize for you what I think is really going on here: 

China is looking for ways to maximize vaccine diplomacy but is aware that it's domestically developed vaccine isn't very effective, and isn't wanted by the rest of the world. They know perfectly well that Taiwan won't accept it either. Some business assholes stand to make a lot of money if a company like Fosun can acquire and sell millions of vaccine doses, or produce it locally. 

So they inked the deal with BioNTech, but pride kept China from actually allowing these doses to be offered. So they played a long game of acquiring them "for Hong Kong and Macau" while quietly pushing to end Taiwan's own deal with BioNTech. After that succeeded, they quietly added Taiwan to the list, without actually talking to Taiwan. In fact, Taiwan might have always been the goal: not only does "refusing" these doses they were never officially offered make Taiwan (and the DPP) look "passive", but if Taiwan did accept them, they'd be basically abrogating their own sovereignty. 

Or, perhaps, faced with an oversupply of vaccines Hong Kongers don't trust for a variety of reasons, they decided to use them in a campaign to attack the DPP's image. Or maybe they haven't actually acquired the vaccines (there's no confirmation the doses are in Shanghai) but are using this as a way of stirring up an anti-government media frenzy in Taiwan, with their KMT friends helping out. But this is a weak and slimy argument if the doses aren't even in China, and we don't know that they are.

Either way, China wins.

So now, China can try to claim the "high ground" by saying they have good vaccines from Europe and want to help, but obstinate, difficult, troublemaker Taiwan doesn't want them. They make it sound humanitarian, but of course, they're the ones who blocked the initial deal.

And this isn't even getting into the question of whether anything sent over by China is trustworthy. I wouldn't take an injection offered by the CCP, even if they say it came from Europe. Would you?

They ensure this makes it into the Taiwanese news by getting some of their KMT muppets to make emotional arguments at a time when Taiwanese citizens are feeling ignored by the world, distrustful of the AZ vaccines available, worried about the current outbreak, and wanting someone to blame. What worried news watcher wouldn't be moved by an outcry that Taiwanese deserve the best vaccines available at such a stressful time?

(I will not go so far as to imply that the CCP engineered the outbreak in Taiwan. Not that they wouldn't try; they absolutely are that evil. I'm just not convinced they're quite that competent and the Novotel/Wanhua teahouse sources of the outbreak are plausible and likely.)

These same news reports elide the fact that a lot of people are looking to get very rich, a lot of the sovereignty issues are not being reported on accurately, and neither the Taiwanese nor the international media seem interested in reporting the whole story. 

In fairness, the government has made some mistakes with Taiwan's pandemic response. Frontline workers should have been encouraged more strongly to get the vaccines available. Pilots should not have been given shortened quarantines. We had a year to figure out how to do mass rapid testing should the need arise. But I would give Taiwan an A (not an A+) on its overall response, while the rest of the world gets a C, D or F. And although mistakes have been made, this is not one of them.

In other words: shame on you, Reuters, and your "writers" in the Beijing "newsroom".

No comments: