China will launch a programme to help vaccinate its nationals abroad against the coronavirus and introduce a digital health passport for global travel, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday.
Wang told a news conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing that the “Spring Seedling Action” programme would “help and fight for” Chinese nationals outside the country to receive either a Chinese-made vaccine or one made by other countries. The Chinese character for “seedling” is also used to refer to vaccines.
“We use action to tell compatriots abroad: no one is left behind under ‘diplomacy for the people’,” Wang said, employing a frequently used slogan to promote the Chinese foreign service for nationals abroad.
China has donated vaccines to countries such as Zimbabwe, Iraq and Pakistan as part of its “vaccine diplomacy”, which analysts say is aimed at improving China’s image across the world.
That effort has expanded to “compatriots” or Chinese overseas and residents of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
In January, Beijing said Taiwanese residents in mainland China could also apply for free Covid-19 vaccines.
Hong Kong and Macau have also received mainland-made vaccines for their public inoculation programmes.
At the news conference, Wang said China was also considering setting up vaccination centres offering Chinese shots in other countries.
“We are also preparing to set up regional vaccination sites for Chinese-made shots, in countries where conditions allow, to serve compatriots in need in surrounding countries,” Wang said, without giving details.
A Chinese version of a digital health passport was also in the works, Wang said.
He said it would allow China and other countries to verify the result of a traveller’s Covid-19 nucleic acid test and whether that person had been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The proposed health passport would launch on the premise of “fully protecting personal privacy”, he said without providing details about how that would be achieved.
The foreign ministry said in November that China was in the early stages of establishing an international system to allow countries to mutually recognise a traveller’s health information to ease global travel and revive the global supply chain.
At the time, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was in talks with “relevant parties”.
The coronavirus vaccination passport, which would allow people who have tested negative for the coronavirus to travel around the world, is controversial.
The World Health Organization issued a position paper in February, advising against such health passports because of “critical unknowns” about whether they would be effective in cutting transmission. WHO said ethical considerations arose because of the unequal distribution of Covid-19 vaccines between developing and developed countries.