South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks on the occasion of the third anniversary of his inauguration at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on May 10, 2020. (Photo by KIM Min-Hee / POOL / AFP) (AFP / Kim Min-hee)

Korean social media posts share misleading claim about China-made coronavirus vaccines after Chinese foreign minister's visit

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Multiple posts shared repeatedly on Facebook claim that South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced the country had procured enough doses of China-made Covid-19 vaccines to vaccinate 45 million people. The posts, which circulated online in late November 2020, allege the agreement is a direct result of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s state visit to Seoul last month. The claim is misleading; official South Korean government records of bilateral meetings held with Wang make no reference to vaccines; as of December 3, 2020, there are no credible media or government reports that say South Korea has acquired China-made vaccines following Wang’s visit.

The claim was published here on Facebook on November 30, 2020.

The post features a photo of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, with Korean text that translates to English as: “Immediately after Wang Yi returns [to China].... Moon Jae-in announces ‘We have procured vaccines for 45 million people’”. 

The Korean-language post states, in part: “Please congratulate us. These vaccines are effective because they were made in China, where the coronavirus originated.

“We have been promised [Chinese novel coronavirus vaccines] after flattering Wang Yi during his visit”.

These posts circulated online just days after Wang made a three-day visit to South Korea from November 25, 2020. Here is a report by Chinese state media CGTN on the visit.

Similar claims have also been shared here, here, here, here, here and here on Facebook.

However, the claim is misleading.

Chinese foreign minister's visit

According to the Chinese foreign ministry, Wang held talks with South Korean President Moon, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa and several other senior officials during his three-day visit to Seoul in November 2020.

Official statements from both South Korea’s presidential office and foreign ministry on Wang’s visit make no reference to discussions on the importation of China-made novel coronavirus vaccines, or agreements on its procurement.

As of December 2, 2020, multiple keyword searches found no credible reports about Moon announcing South Korea had been “promised” novel coronavirus vaccines from China during talks with Wang.

Covid-19 vaccines in South Korea

This November 29, 2020 report by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency says the ruling Democratic Party aims to secure sufficient coronavirus vaccines for “44 million people, or 85 percent of the country's population”.

Citing a “key party source”, it states that the party will seek an additional 1.3 trillion won (US$1.18 billion) in next year's state budget to access the vaccines.

The next day, the party issued this statement echoing part of the Yonhap report.

Screenshot of a part of the Democratic Party’s statement, taken on December 1, 2020

It reads, in part: “As pharmaceutical companies worldwide continue to present their findings on the ongoing clinical trials of their coronavirus vaccines, this party will look to increase funding for securing [these vaccines], to provide more than the original aim of securing a supply for 30 million people.”

Neither the Yonhap report or the Democratic Party statement specifies that these vaccines will be sourced from China.

During a press conference on November 29, 2020, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said talks with “US and European vaccine suppliers” are “yet to be complete”, when questioned about the aforementioned Democractic Party statement.

At the video’s 24-minute 20-second mark, Chung says, in part: “While many domestic bio companies are working to develop the vaccines [but] it is likely that there will be a significant delay for these domestic companies to deliver. Until they can, we are working to receive the needed amount from US and European vaccine manufacturers, but as talks with these providers are yet to be complete, we expect to deliver these results at a later date.”

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported on December 3, 2020 that the government has reached an agreement with British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for the acquisition of its novel coronavirus vaccines. 

The report reads, in part: "A health ministry official [told Yonhap] on December 3, 'We have signed a contract with AstraZeneca to be supplied vaccines, and when talks with individual vaccine manufacturers are completed next week, we will be making announcements on details of the contracts and the amounts we have procured.'"