TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s foreign minister said on Thursday that China had forced the Malaysian state of Sarawak to reinstate a ban on travelers from the island as part of coronavirus control measures, saying Beijing took “joy” in the measures.
Taiwan says the inclusion of the island by the World Health Organization (WHO) in China’s virus zone has led countries to believe the island’s virus situation is as dire as that of China.
Taiwan, which says it is an independent country and is not part of China, has reported 42 cases and one death, compared to more than 80,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths in China.
Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, has separate immigration controls from the rest of Malaysia. This week, it included Taiwan as part of its ban on visitors from China, then removed it after Taiwan complained, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry.
âAfter talks, Sarawak in Malaysia acknowledged that Taiwan was not China and lifted its travel ban against the coronavirus,â Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Twitter.
âGuess what? China has forced Sarawak to ban Taiwan again! China is delighted to push Taiwan around and then expects gratitude for its sacrifice in Wuhan. It’s sickening.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the ruling Progressive Democratic Party (DPP) in Taiwan had “politicized” the issue.
âChina has always opposed the politicization of the issue of epidemic prevention and control. We care about the health and well-being of our Taiwanese compatriots. The DPP has politicized this issue and should really be despised, âhe said, without giving further details.
China has expressed its displeasure with countries that ban Chinese travelers.
Sarawak immigration officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The virus crisis has worsened the already precarious ties between China and Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.
Malaysia and Taiwan enjoy close economic and cultural ties, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations.
This isn’t the first time Taiwan has faced travel exclusions due to what Taiwan says is a mistaken connection to China.
Vietnam and the Philippines have both lifted flight or travel bans to Taiwan after Taipei’s complaint. Taiwan has been less successful in the case of Italy, whose ban on Chinese flights includes Taiwan.
Taiwan is governed separately from China, and China has no say in the island’s health policy.
Report by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo and Huizhong Wu in Beijing and Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel