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Taiwan says BioNTech vaccine deal on hold, cites potential Chinese pressure

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TAIPEI, Feb 17 (Reuters) - A deal for Taiwan to buy 5million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Germany'sBioNTech SE is on hold, the island's health ministersaid on Wednesday, citing potential Chinese pressure for thedelay.

Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said officials wereon the verge of announcing the deal in December when BioNTechpulled the plug.

While he did not directly say China was to blame, Chenimplied there was a political dimension to the decision and thathe had been worried about "outside forces intervening", hencehis caution in discussing the planned deal publicly.

"Certain people don't want Taiwan to be too happy," headded, without elaborating, in a radio interview.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, hasrepeatedly sparred with the island over the coronaviruspandemic.

Taiwan has been angered by China's assertion only it canspeak for the island on the international stage about thesubject, while Taiwan has accused China of lack of transparency.

BioNTech signed a deal with Chinese firm Shanghai FosunPharmaceutical Group Co Ltd to exclusively developand commercialize COVID-19 vaccine products developed by usingBioNTech's mRNA technology in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macauand Taiwan.

In return it agreed to pay up to $85 million in licensingfees and invest $50 million for a stake in the German firm.

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

Chen said BioNTech had not asked them to speak to Fosun, andthe deal with BioNTech had not been "torn up", only that it was"pending".

BioNTech and Fosun did not immediately respond to a requestfor comment. China's Taiwan Affairs Office declined immediatecomment. China is currently observing the week-long Lunar NewYear holiday.

Taiwan announced late in December said it had agreed to buyalmost 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including 10million from UK drugmaker AstraZeneca, with the restcoming from the COVAX global vaccine programme and an unnamedcompany.(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Jane Wardell)