U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar touched down in Taiwan on Sunday to discuss government cooperation regarding the coronavirus pandemic, marking the highest-level U.S. meeting with Taiwan officials.
In remarks prior to his meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Azar said the trip "demonstrates the robust US-Taiwan partnership on global health and health security, one of many aspects of our comprehensive friendship."
Thank you, President Tsai, for welcoming me to Taiwan today. It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from the United States to #Taiwan. https://t.co/tsZTN9gp9T— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) August 10, 2020
According to Sec. Azar, the visit has three primary purposes:
“The first is to recognise Taiwan as an open and democratic society, executing a highly successful and transparent Covid-19 response,” he said. “The second is to reaffirm Taiwan as a long partner and friend of the United States. The third is to note that Taiwan deserves to be recognised as a global health leader with an excellent track record of contributing to international health."
Taiwan appears to have weathered the virus better than nearly every other country that has reported cases. As of Monday, it reported 480 total confirmed cases, or two per 100,000 people, and only 7 deaths. The New York Times reports several instances of Taiwanese officials voicing hopes that the democratically-governed island can leverage its success against authoritarian China’s global coronavirus response agenda.
Both the UN and China, who serves as a permanent member on the UN Security Council, reject Taiwan’s claims of autonomy and have excluded the nation from the World Health Organization.
Ms. Tsai met with Azar on Monday, both taking the proper protective measures.
“Over the last few months, Taiwan and the U.S. have worked together to confront the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Ms. Tsai. "I am sure that through on-site visits during this trip, the delegation will gain a better understanding of Taiwan's approach to containing the pandemic. This trip also gives us an opportunity to exchange views in person on issues of mutual concern, and work together to find a direction for future cooperation."
AIT and TECRO will sign a memorandum of understanding to expand on the more than 20 years of collaboration between @HHSGov and the Taiwan Ministry of Health and Welfare. Minister Chen and I will sign a statement reaffirming our long-standing cooperation. https://t.co/t6edjlLzoZ— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) August 10, 2020
During the trip, Azar highlighted the U.S. willingness to devote COVID-19 vaccine technology toward global need one the U.S. population is sufficiently protected, a sentiment Operation Warp Speed director Dr. Moncef Slaoui has also expressed.
“…we anticipate having capacity that, once those needs are satisfied, those products would be available in the world community according to fair and equitable distributions that we would consult in the international community on,” Sec. Azar told reporters in Taiwan.
China condemned the meeting:
“China consistently and firmly opposes any official interactions between the US and Taiwan and has made stern representations with the US side over this issue,” China spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday, urging the U.S. to draw back Taiwan relations “to avoid severe damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Recently, the U.S. designated China for its territorial encroachment in the South China Sea, including through the Taiwan Strait. China is attempting to violate a UN agreement dictating the extent of maritime territorial claims and maintains that, according to historical precedent, Taiwan should be a province of mainland China.
The U.S. does not acknowledge China’s claims.
Chinese state-affiliated media outlet Xinhua claims Azar’s visit is intended to smite China and distract Americans from the Trump administration’s apparently failed response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Two Chinese air force jets staged a flyover of the island on Monday for only the third time in four years. The jets flew in range of Taiwan’s air defense missiles, a move one Taiwanese official told Reuters was “very risky” and possibly intended as retaliation for Azar’s visit.
Taiwan intensified its annual war games last month to simulate a Chinese invasion, indicating increased concern over aggressive Chinese action against Taiwan.