Beijing has invited residents of Taiwan to visit China for vaccinations in a move that seems certain to infuriate the democratically elected government in Taipei.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement Friday that Taiwanese residents were welcome to be inoculated as long as they followed social distancing measures, Reuters reported. While Beijing has shut its borders to most international travelers, it claims sovereignty over the self-ruling island of Taiwan; Taiwanese holding certain permits can still enter the People’s Republic.
The World Health Organization recently authorized the Chinese-developed Sinopharm and Sinovac shots for emergency use during the pandemic, despite doubts about their effectiveness against symptomatic infection.
While China has administered more than 800 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, Taiwan is off to a sluggish start. The island of roughly 23.5 million people, which had been a model of coronavirus containment until a recent spike in infections, has only inoculated about 3 percent of its population.
Taiwan recently received over 1.2 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from Japan. The United States, Taiwan’s most important ally, has also pledged at least 750,000 shots.
Beijing has offered to send Chinese-made vaccines to Taiwan, which bars imports of Chinese pharmaceutical goods. In its statement, the Taiwan Affairs Office urged Taipei to “quickly remove artificial obstacles for mainland vaccines being sent to Taiwan and allow the broad mass of Taiwan compatriots to receive the safe and highly effective mainland vaccines.”
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has accused Beijing of blocking at least one vaccine deal that her government had hoped to sign with a European drugmaker.
The Taiwan Affairs Office said that at least 62,000 Taiwanese were vaccinated by Beijing as of May 31, though opinion polls in Taiwan have shown that only a small minority would opt for Chinese-made shots.