Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu. Reuters

Paraguay is one of 15 nations that still recognize Taiwan as independent of China.

Taiwan’s foreign minister said Wednesday that Beijing offered Paraguay COVID-19 vaccines to switch.

India offered Paraguay 200,000 vaccines in an attempt to shield Paraguay from China’s advances.

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Taiwan has accused Beijing of trying to bribe Paraguay with COVID-19 vaccines to officially recognize Taiwan as part of China.

Paraguay is one of only 15 nations that still recognize Taiwan as independent, and it is in dire need of vaccines. China has long insisted that Taiwan is part of China, though Taiwan has operated as its own country for decades.

Paraguay is struggling with a new wave of infections, and the government faces widespread protests over its pandemic response.

On Wednesday, Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, told Agence France-Presse that China had sought to use the turmoil to pressure Paraguay into swearing publicly that Taiwan was part of China.

“This is a period of time when we see Chinese ‘vaccine diplomacy’ has been flexing its muscles in many parts of world, especially in central and south America,” Wu told the agency.

“The Chinese government was very active in saying … if the Paraguay government is willing to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, they will be able to get quite a few million vaccine doses from China.”

Wu said that the offer from Beijing had put President Mario Abdo Benítez’s government in a tough spot, with Paraguay’s main political opposition “very willing to link up with China.”

Last month, China denied trying to win Paraguay’s support with vaccines after Paraguay said it had been approached by brokers claiming they could provide Chinese vaccines if the South American country cut ties with Taiwan.

Wu went on to say Wednesday that the Taiwanese government had reached out to Japan, the US, and India to ask for vaccines in an attempt to bat away Beijing’s advances, Channel News Asia reported.

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“India fortunately has been able to provide some Covaxin vaccines to Paraguay,” Wu said. Covaxin is an Indian-made vaccine produced by Bharat Biotech and the Indian government.

India sent 100,000 doses to Paraguay on March 26, with 100,000 more in the pipeline, Wu said, per Channel News Asia.

China has offered its vaccine to dozens of poorer nations in what critics say is an attempt to usurp the success of vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna that were made by companies in the West.

Last month, China’s foreign ministry said it was providing 69 countries with free vaccines and was selling vaccines to 28 nations.

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