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Vaccines have become the latest front line in China’s campaign to win the hearts of Taiwanese

By Yimou Lee

TAIBI (Reuters) – Beijing is promoting a government program that gives Taiwanese in China a priority for COVID-19 vaccines, prompting concerns within the Taiwan government which sees it as the latest Chinese tool to win over the islanders.

China, which claims Taiwan is its own province, is offering the free offer at a time when the Democratic Island has yet to initiate its own vaccinations, as Chinese government departments and state media have quoted Taiwanese in China in support of the program.

“It shows the warmth of the mainland and its love for us,” a Taiwanese teacher named Wang was quoted as saying in a post this month by the China United Front Work Department, which is responsible for wooing overseas Chinese and non-Communists.

Beijing has provided incentives such as tax breaks and subsidies for the estimated 400,000 Taiwanese business community in China for decades, but the move underscores a bigger push for lobbying.

Wang Yang, the fourth leader of the Communist Party, this week instructed government officials to offer comprehensive benefits to the Taiwanese in an effort to create a “sense of profit” among Taiwanese to help “reunify with the motherland.”

It’s unclear how many Taiwanese in China have been vaccinated, but Taiwan officials are concerned about the program and say vaccines have become the latest front-line in the attack of Chinese magic.

“This tactic is to reinforce the loyalty of Taiwanese businessmen to the mainland and increase the pressure on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party,” a Taiwan security official investigating the matter told Reuters.

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The official was not allowed to speak to the media and refused to reveal his identity.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement to Reuters that vaccination is a matter of the medical profession and “should not be used as political propaganda.”

She said Taiwanese should “carefully assess the safety and necessity” of receiving vaccines in China, adding that she will continue to monitor the situation.

Taiwan government officials have repeatedly reminded people of the health “risks” related to Chinese vaccines, and said those who get vaccinated in China should be quarantined for 14 days upon returning to the island. Imports of vaccines are prohibited.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office referred Reuters to recent statements that the Taiwan government is spreading “unfounded concerns” about Chinese vaccines for “political purposes”, and that Chinese vaccines are “very safe.”

While Taiwan kept the epidemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention methods, the government came under mounting pressure amid a rare outbreak of locally transmitted COVID-19 cases.

Taiwan has ordered nearly 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 10 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc, but none will start arriving until March at the earliest.

(Prepared by Yimo Li; Additional report from the Beijing Newsroom; edited by Edwina Gibbs)

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