By N24 Correspondent, LOS ANGELES: U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar is to make the first cabinet-level visit of a top U.S. official to Taiwan in six years, as Washington vows to take more steps to boost the democratic island, which China has threatened to invade.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), Health Secretary Azar wants to convey U.S. support to Taiwan, which has attained “remarkable success” in managing the coronavirus pandemic.
“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before it,” Azar was quoted as saying by the RFA.
“I look forward to conveying U.S. government’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,” Azar said, adding that the trip would likely strengthen economic and public health cooperation with Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and President Tsai Ing-wen.
Azar’s historic visit will strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership and enhance U.S.-Taiwan cooperation to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic, said a statement announcing the trip, adding that Taiwan had played a “critical” role in the international response to the pandemic.
Azar’s visit follows an endorsement of the Taiwan Travel Act by the U.S. government in 2018, as a part of a policy allowing high-level officials to visit the country, a sovereign state formed in 1911 with the fall of China’s Qing Dynasty. With the authoritarian communists taking control of Beijing in 1949, Taiwan remained a separate sovereign country then ruled by the Kuomintang Party.
While Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Beijing has put intense diplomatic pressure on the international community for decades not to recognize its sovereign status, and has refused to rule out a military invasion in the name of “unification.”
Azar will meet President Tsai during his trip, which will also seek out fresh sources of medical equipment manufactured in Taiwan, said the RFA.
Kolas Yotaka, Spokeswoman for Taiwan’s administration, the Executive Yuan, said Azar is also a staunch supporter of the island’s bid to participate in the World Health Organization (WHO), something that has been blocked by diplomatic pressure from Beijing in recent years.
“Taiwan looks forward to the continued improvement of Taiwan-U.S. global partnership on an already sound foundation, and their joint defense of democracy, freedom, and human rights,” Yotaka was quoted as saying by the RFA.
Taiwan Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Joanne Ou said Azar would be visiting Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Control Center and talking with health experts.
“This visit by Azar will be the first ministerial-level visit from a U.S. official since 2014,” Ou said. “He will be the highest-ranking U.S. cabinet official to visit Taiwan since 1979.”
Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung said Azar’s delegation would be kept in a “bubble” during their visit, suggesting that they won’t be asked to go into a 14-day quarantine like other arrivals.
“It takes quite a lot of manpower to achieve this, although the visit will only be short, and they’ll be gone again in three days,” Chen said.
“Our community has been completely isolated [from the rest of the world], and this is so valuable, and not every country has been able to do this,” he said. “But we will [manage it] if the visitors are important enough.”
Lee Ta-Chung, Associate Professor of international affairs and strategy at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said, Azar’s visit is something of a diplomatic coup for Tsai’s administration.
“No ministerial-level officials came to Taiwan during the first term of Tsai’s presidency,” Lee said, apparently referring to a shift in policy in Washington, which has announced an end to decades of engagement with China. “I think the Taiwan Travel Act had a very important impact.”
Professor Tung Li-wen of the Asia-Pacific Elite Interchange Association said the trip could pave the way for higher-level exchanges in the future.
“Obviously, there may be higher-level and more important positions in the future, who will continue to promote exchanges between Taiwan and the United States,” Professor Li-wen said.
U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar will visit Taiwan after any U.S. official visiting the sovereign island country in six years. Mr. Azar’s visit will be the first cabinet-level visit of a U.S. official since 1979. Photo: Agencies
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