TAIPEI – Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen received United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Monday at the presidential office, in what was the highest-level US official to visit the island since 1979.
At 10:00 am, Tsai, accompanied by members of her government, received the US delegation headed by Azar, all of them wearing masks as the Americans have been exempt from quarantines during the visit but must use masks at all times.
“Your visit represents a huge step forward in anti-pandemic cooperation between our countries,” the president said in a brief address.
Tsai recalled that the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had recently said that “the US has wanted Taiwan to be a part of the conversations at the World Health Assembly, but that China has prevented that from happening,” a situation she described as “highly regrettable” and “a violation of the universal right to health.”
“It’s a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President (Donald) Trump to Taiwan,” Azar said.
“The United States has expressed our admiration for Taiwan’s democratic success in tangible ways,” he added. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwan’s society and culture.”
According to Azar, Taiwan has had “tremendous success in detecting COVID-19, managing the outbreak and sharing this valuable information with other nations.”
“I look forward to using this visit to (…) learn about how our shared democratic values have driven success in health,” he concluded.
The US delegation landed at 4:48 pm Sunday at the Songshan Airport in Taipei, the capital of an island that has been independently governed since 1949 but whose sovereignty is demanded by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which believes the visit violates its “one China” principle.
Azar’s trip is the highest-level visit by a US official to the island since 1979, when relations between Washington and Taipei became unofficial and informal after the US recognized the PRC and normalized its ties with Beijing.
The Trump administration has, however, considered it a priority to strengthen its relationship with Taiwan and has approved the sale of weapons to Taipei.
On Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson threatened “strong countermeasures” in response to Azar’s visit to the island although for the time being Beijing has not gone any further.
The visit is yet another step in Washington’s current policy to escalate tensions with China on almost every front: trade, technology, the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, and the situation in the South China Sea.
The US delegation underwent COVID-19 tests on arrival and will travel in special vehicles and use separate entrances and elevators in government buildings during their stay on the island to help reduce the risk of infection.
Azar will also visit Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control with his local counterpart Chen Shih-chung to witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Office of Economic and Cultural Representation in the US.
Azar is also scheduled to give a speech at Taipei University on Wednesday, which will be his last event before leaving the island.