Daily US Times: Alex Azar, United States Health and Human Services Secretary, will lead a delegation to Taiwan, his office announced Tuesday. The high-level trip is almost certain to anger Beijing, which claims the self-governing island as part of its territory.
A statement from the US Health and Human Services (HHS) Department says the trip, scheduled “in the coming days,” will be the highest level visit by any US Cabinet official to the island since 1979, when Washington broke official ties with Taiwan to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing.
The high-profile trip is likely to worsen relations between China and the US, which have nosedived this year to their lowest point in decades. For years, rivalries and tensions have simmered between the world’s two largest economies over technology, trade and geopolitics, but the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a further blow to their already damaged ties.
During his visit, Azar will meet with Covid-19 responders, senior Taiwan counterparts and experts on behalf of US President Donald Trump to discuss US-Taiwan partnership, the global pandemic response and the island’s role as a “reliable global supplier of medical equipment and critical technology,” according to the statement.
Azar said in a statement that Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the Covid-19 pandemic and long before it.
He said: “I look forward to conveying President Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health.”
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the visit would be a “testament to the solid mutual trust and smooth communication between Taiwan and the US” and the “close partnership the two nations share.”
The US does not maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it remains a firm backer of the island and its primary arms supplier.
The last time a US Cabinet official had visited Taiwan was six years ago in 2014, when Former President Barack Obama sent Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy to the island. That visit prompted a fierce protest from China, with its foreign ministry expressing “resolute opposition and strong dissatisfaction.”
Taiwan has emerged as one of the focal points of the escalating tensions between the US and China. China said last month that it would place sanctions on US company Lockheed Martin for its involvement in a major US arms sale to Taiwan.
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