The government will exempt vaccinated foreigners from two-week quarantine starting July 1 and the whitelist includes two Chinese COVID-19 vaccines. Korea is the first country in the world to exempt even those who have only been given the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, which have unimpressive efficacy rates. The government explained that Sinovac and Sinopharm have both received WHO approval for emergency use. But China refuses to reciprocate, saying even vaccinated Koreans will have to suffer three weeks’ quarantine.

Even when the pandemic raged through Wuhan early last year, the government here refused to shut the doors to Chinese visitors, ignoring calls from many experts and the public to stem the influx of potential carriers from China. When faced with mounting criticism, President Moon Jae-in told Chinese President Xi Jinping in a telephone call, “China’s suffering is our suffering.” The minister of health and welfare went even further and blamed Korean visitors to China for bringing the virus back to Korea. But China promptly closed its borders to Korean visitors when cases began to surge here and forced all passengers aboard a Korean passenger plane into two weeks’ isolation without prior warning. China officials even admonished the Korean government by saying, “Quarantine outweighs diplomacy.”

Four Korean correspondents who were assigned to Japan over the last year have yet to start their jobs as the Japanese government has not allowed them in citing quarantine reasons. But over the same period, three or four new Japanese correspondents arrived in Korea and started their work after the mandatory two weeks of self-isolation. 

Reciprocity is the basis of all diplomacy between sovereign states. If vaccinated Chinese citizens are exempt from quarantine in Korea, vaccinated Koreans who visit China should be treated equally. Instead, Chinese officials mistakenly incinerated the passports of 31 Koreans who are being quarantined there. These people came in peace and had committed no offense. How did Korea allow itself to be subjected to such abuses by neighboring countries?

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