REFILE-Foxconn founder asks Taiwan to allow vaccine talks with Chinese firm

(Corrects to delete extraneous word ‘agency’ in paragraph 6)

TAIPEI, June 18 (Reuters) - Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Taiwan’s Foxconn, asked for government permission on Friday to negotiate with a Chinese company for the purchase of BioNTech SE COVID-19 vaccines to help address the island’s shortage of shots.

The Taiwanese government’s own deal with BioNTech fell through earlier this year - a problem Taiwan has blamed on pressure from Beijing.

China has denied the accusation, saying Taiwan is free to obtain the vaccines via Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, which has a contract with BioNTech to sell the vaccines in Greater China, including Taiwan.

Taiwan’s government says it has and will only deal with BioNTech in Germany and that it does not trust vaccines from China, but that it is also happy to facilitate Gou’s proposed purchase provided he can prove BioNTech has vaccines it is willing to sell to Taiwan.

In an open letter addressed to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Gou laid out his proposals to the government.

“Agree to our donation contract and enter into discussions on substantive details, and also agree to our proposed contract structure diagram for the procurement from Germany’s BioNTech (Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical as the agent), manufactured in and shipped from Germany,” he said.

Gou, who wants to donate the vaccine to Taiwan’s government through his charity, said he wanted to meet Tsai to discuss the proposal and that he had “absolutely no political or commercial intentions in this matter”.

The presidential office said Tsai was always happy to talk with Gou.

“We hope that the government and the private sector will work together to obtain more vaccine supplies for Taiwan,” said spokesman Xavier Chang.

But a senior government official told Reuters it was still waiting for Gou to get a “delivery assurance from the original manufacturer” to confirm that it had vaccines and could supply them. Gou has yet to provide this, the official said.

Gou said by making the purchase and donation known internationally, the government does not need to worry about the issue of “fake” vaccines.

Only around 5% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one shot, but the government has millions of doses on order which have been held up by global shortages and it has come under pressure to get more as domestic cases spike.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Wednesday he believed Gou was working hard to get the vaccines, but that most major vaccine firms are only dealing with countries.

Neither BioNTech nor Fosun immediately responded to a request for comment. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)