Notices of the new policy to "resume people-to-people exchanges between China and other countries" were issued by Chinese embassies or consulates in the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Germany, Italy, the United States, Israel and India as of Monday. The announcements said China would simplify the application process for those with certificates proving they had been given a Chinese vaccine.
The idea mimics interest in some other countries to develop so-called vaccine passports, or a mechanism for verifying and offering certain privileges to vaccinated travelers.
It also is in keeping with China's ongoing efforts to use its coronavirus vaccines for diplomacy, to extend spheres of influence and deepen economic ties. These overtures, however, have hit snags, with some countries hesitant to take the Chinese-made vaccines due to Beijing's lack of transparency around their development.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not specify how the application process would be streamlined.
A notice on the Chinese embassy's website in the United States said that foreign nationals and their family members visiting China to resume "work and production in various fields" could apply. In India and the Philippines, notices on the embassy websites said those interested could prepare their applications "in accordance with requirements before the pandemic." A statement issued by the embassy in Germany said applicants would not need to provide invitation letters by provincial foreign affairs or commercial departments.
China has so far approved four vaccines for emergency use - for the most part exporting them to developing countries. Its latest vaccine, approved last week, was developed by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical company and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The final phase trials are underway in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Indonesia, according to a statement Monday from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
For most of the last year, China has maintained tight border entry requirements, barring most foreigners, including journalists, students and business travelers. Those allowed entry are required to quarantine for at least two weeks and often require special approval.
In Monday's announcement, the Foreign Ministry also said the criteria for emergency humanitarian visas, such as visiting family, attending funerals or seeing critically ill relatives, would be expanded.
Some countries in Europe, such as Spain and Greece, are pushing for the European Union to develop digital "vaccine passports" to ease entry for visitors - and ensure summer tourism revenue. Others have pushed back on the idea, over concerns that it would create an unfair, two-tiered system between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Israel, where a massive effort is underway to reach herd immunity through inoculation, has already begun issuing a "green pass" with which vaccinated people can enter certain establishments.
Along with short-term concerns about inequalities between European countries, countries across Africa, where coronavirus vaccine access is either nonexistent or extremely limited, are concerned that inoculation travel requirements could lead to years of discrimination against their populations. While the United States and other western countries have monopolized much of the world's existing vaccine supplies, China has stepped in to offer its vaccine version to countries unable to compete for western-made vials.
Published : March 17, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Lily Kuo, Miriam Berger