Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Introducing Terry Gou, China's vaccine gamepiece


Are those claws real? Does it matter, if the purpose is the show?

I really didn't want to write about vaccines even one more time, but it feels somehow necessary. Sigh.

You've probably heard the news that Terry Gou -- Foxconn billionaire and guy who called Taiwan independence supporters "garbage" -- has applied to the Taiwan FDA to import 5 million doses of BNT. More accurately, a New Taipei-based biomedical firm is the official applicant, Gou's role is basically to write the check and talk to the press. Notably, Shanghai Fosun is not a part of this deal (perhaps there are some fees paid to waive distribution rights). 

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung has confirmed that the application is under review, but apparently the original authorization letter from BioNTech (BNT) does not seem to be included. From my understanding, that letter is essentially the proof that BNT is going to deliver what it says it will -- BNT doses imported straight from Germany.

I'll be quite interested to see how that story develops in the coming days. As it stands now, it seems clear that without that document, the planned purchase and distribution cannot go through. (If it doesn't, however, prepare to hear Gou scream about it and blame "the DPP" for the paper he doesn't have). 

One could say that Terry Gou might have been able to get around Shanghai Fosun by paying them off, and perhaps this is true. However, the government refusing to pay those fees was not the reason given for BNT's contract with the Taiwanese government falling through. Unless the Tsai government and Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) are both telling some massive lies to the public, the reason was related to the use of the word "country" (and then "Taiwan") in the contract.

So, Shanghai Fosun -- whose owners certainly have close ties to the CCP -- is willing to step aside for Terry Gou, but not the Taiwanese government? Why?

Here's the best explanation I can provide: essentially, it's all politics on China's part, where they've set up a game that it will be very hard for Taiwan to win.

How does the game work?

First, China blocks the Taiwan government’s negotiations with BNT. Then China claims ”only” Shanghai Fosun has the right to sell BNT to Taiwan. Taiwan rejects this “offer” as Shanghai Fosun never applied for distribution approval in Taiwan

Then Terry Gou submits the application that Fosun couldn't be bothered to attempt. Terry says the vaccines will come straight from Germany — not through Shanghai Fosun.

Suddenly Shanghai Fosun’s inalienable “rights” to the Taiwan market no longer seem to matter. Which means they were never the reason why Taiwan's own negotiations were abruptly cut off even after a contract had been agreed upon.

This time, nobody in China, the media or the pan-blue camp claim Gou is “circumventing” Fosun or “trying to obtain independence through vaccines”, even though he is doing exactly what the Taiwanese government tried to do earlier (which, again, was completely acceptable).

China wants the DPP to look bad, so they won’t stand in the way of pro-China Terry Gou (remember just whom he called "garbage"!) obtaining these doses.

As there are some questions about this authorization letter, it is unclear to me if BNT has actually agreed to sell him the vaccines or not. There are also a few other lingering questions. If China is refusing to let Taiwan access vaccines because Taiwan insists on doing so without abrogating its sovereignty, how will China react if these BNT doses are approved in Taiwan without the Chinese government's involvement? (Remember, BNT is still not approved in China proper, only Hong Kong and Macau).

The MOHW will still have to go through quite a bit of documentation to obtain these 'donated' vaccines -- what name will they use for Taiwan? If their use of "Taiwan", "Republic of China" or "country" stops the deal dead, will China, the KMT and Gou scream "politics!" at the DPP? (Yes.) 

If the original authorization letter is required before this can go through, will Gou and the KMT still scream "politics"? (Yes.) 

It's also not clear to me if BNT is actually approved for use in Taiwan yet. If it isn't, that will have to happen. Approval for emergency use is possible, but in those cases typically the government itself assumes legal liability if any problems arise. If Gou donates the vaccines through this biomedical firm, how does the legal liability for that work? If that's the reason they are rejected, will these same parties scream "politics"? (Yes.) 

Therefore, if Gou doesn’t secure the vaccines, he can blame the DPP. This looks good for both the KMT and China.

If he does secure them, the government looks bad: incompetent, unable to get this done themselves, when the truth is China blocked their attempt to do exactly what Gou is doing now. The media will have a field day, and nobody will stop to think that these 5 million vaccines were specifically intended to embarrass the government. I say this without making a value judgment on whether we should or shouldn't import them (although I absolutely would refuse one, and I willingly took AZ). 

In either scenario, China wins. The KMT looks good. The current government looks bad. If this is a game, China is winning. Again, I say this with no value judgment on whether 5 million German-made BNT doses in Taiwan would be a good thing. Of course, if they came with no political strings, they would be. But they do come with political strings which are worth interrogating.

It also hands another victory to China: whether the vaccines actually get here or not, the CCP is sending a message. Cooperate with us. Call independence "garbage". Be pro-China. If you do, and are willing to play by our rules, we'll clear the path to life-saving vaccines for you. If you don't, then we'll put you in as many chokeholds as possible. So you'd better vote for the party we prefer, got it?

In other words, nice countr---er, province you got there, Taiwan. It'd be a shame if something happened to it.

Through it all, China pulls the levers. And perhaps this helps Gou with plans for a 2024 presidential run, a race the KMT could conceivably win despite their China stance being deeply unpopular.

So they are playing politics with vaccines, while accusing the DPP of exactly what they are doing. That's usually their strategy, to be honest. It's easy to see through once you know how it works.

(If I'm missing anything in this rundown of exactly what's going on, please feel free to comment in the spirit of sharing information. Troll comments, however, will not be accepted.)

I won't end with a fist-pump and reassurance that Taiwan will win this game. Right now, if this is Monopoly, China has too many properties. But there is some reason to hope. 

First, the government is responding with dignity, truly the only way that they can -- by not turning their noses up at these doses, and even taking Gou's calls to show they're not obstructing the process. From the Focus Taiwan link above:

In response, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) thanked Gou for his efforts to help Taiwan obtain vaccines during a daily press briefing, adding that the application was already under review.

Meanwhile, an official at the Ministry of Economic Affairs told CNA that Economics Minister Wang Mei-hua (王美花) had taken a call from Gou on Monday, to make sure he had the necessary information and contacts prior to completing the application.

The government, which initially expressed strong reservations about local governments and private enterprises attempting to procure COVID-19 vaccines, has lately softened its position, on the condition that it remains firmly in control of the process.

I'm no political strategist, but this is how I'd handle it. 

What I think they're really doing: the government knows this is a game, and they know vaccine procurement is no joke. They're aware Gou is highly unlikely to succeed. Better to just let him try and let the problem take care of itself, so the inevitable accusations of "blocking" him won't look credible -- because they won't be. 

Secondly, I don't claim to have data regarding how Taiwanese feel about these vaccines. However, from my students (everyday office workers -- generally just normal people, not political activists), there seems to be an understanding that this is indeed a game, and it was started not by the Tsai government, but China and the KMT. Many are filtering out news like this, choosing to only watch the 2pm CECC press conference because they're "sick of the rumors and bad reporting". Online it seems the world's gone haywire, but in the meatspace, there are still plenty of sensible people. The game hasn't turned everyone into a disinformation zombie. And China's "better vote for who we want or you'll suffer!" tactics have been backfiring since 2014.

I've also not heard anyone from this admittedly anecdotal group express any misgivings that Taiwan isn't good enough, can't manage this, or is somehow incompetent or unable to run itself as a country. Quite the opposite, in fact: they're staying home and talking about getting through this together as a country. That's good news.

Finally, this won't last forever. It can't. More vaccines will come; we'll get through this outbreak. Taiwan has proven itself a competent nation, as much as if not more so than any other developed democracy. China and the KMT are using this window of time between the outbreak occurring and vaccine availability to launch an attack, but this attack is time-limited. It will end. It's just unclear how much damage there will be.

Will Terry Gou actually procure these vaccines? Will they make it into Taiwanese arms? I honestly don't know, though I highly doubt it. It's almost irrelevant, however. To the orchestrators of this circus, the theater is all that matters.


Am fear eile said...

There need to be questions asked of the German Foreign Ministry, such as why a German biotech company is apparently being to pursue its own vaccine foteign politics through an arm of the unelected regimein China.

Am fear eile said...

Another question needs to be asked: why is a German biotech company, with in part public funding, allowing the use of its supplies as a tool of the agent of an unelected regime to further anti-democratic foreign policies?