The United States Health and Human Services Secretary has arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for a visit that has angered China.
Alex Azar’s three-day trip is being hailed as an opportunity to strengthen cooperation in combating COVID-19, but Beijing has warned President Donald Trump that the visit threatens peace and stability in the region.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference, “We urge the US to correct its mistake, abide by the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiques and stop official ties with Taiwan in any form. China will take firm countermeasures in response the wrongdoing of the US side.”
Wang also criticized US arms sales to Taiwan, adding, “US arms sales to Taiwan seriously breach the one-China principle and the three joint communiqués, especially the August 17 Communique, which severely undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests, and gravely violates basic norms of international relations.”
J-11 and J-10 fighter jets attached to the PLA Air Force briefly crossed the “middle line” of the Taiwan Straits on Monday morning, Taiwan media reported, citing the island’s air force headquarters.
On August 6, 2020, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper held a telephone call with the PRC Minister of National Defense, General Wei Fenghe.
Secretary Esper called for greater PRC transparency on COVID, expressed concern about PRC destabilizing activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea, and called on the PRC to honor international obligations under the principles of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Secretary Esper communicated the importance that the PRC abide by international laws, rules, and norms, and meet its international commitments.
Taiwan President Cai Ying-wen meeting with Azar on Monday, 10 July.
‘The next Hong Kong’: Taiwan’s foreign minister sounds warning over China
During a rare meeting with US health secretary Alex Azar in Taipei on Tuesday, foreign minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan lived under the constant threat of having its freedoms taken away by China.
“Our daily lives have become increasingly difficult as China continues to pressure Taiwan into accepting its political conditions, conditions that will turn Taiwan into the next Hong Kong,” he said.
U.S. health chief attacks China’s pandemic response
U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar attacked China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and said that if such an outbreak had emerged in Taiwan or the United States it could have been “snuffed out easily”.
“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said in Taipei, capital of self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.
As the virus emerged, China did not live up to its “binding” international obligations in a betrayal of the cooperative spirit needed for global health, he added, wearing a face mask as he has done for all his public events in Taiwan.
“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public,” Azar said.
“Instead, Beijing appears to have resisted information sharing, muzzling doctors who spoke out and hobbling the world’s ability to respond.”
As China tensions soar, US embraces Taiwan with visit, but cautiously
Eager to find a foil for China, US President Donald Trump’s administration is stepping up support for Taiwan, although a high-level visit to the island shows it is still treading carefully on an especially explosive issue.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is heading to Taiwan to showcase the island’s stunningly successful COVID-19 response as Trump, facing a tough re-election with pandemic deaths climbing at home, casts China as the culprit for the disease.
The American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei, highlighted that Azar will be the highest-level US official to visit, based on presidential order of succession, since the United States severed relations and recognized Beijing in 1979.
But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a hawk who rarely misses a chance to denounce China or declare Trump to be the toughest president ever, was uncharacteristically circumspect when asked about Azar’s trip, which has been denounced by Beijing.
“Cabinet members have traveled to Taiwan previously. This is consistent with policies of previous times,” Pompeo told reporters.
“He’ll go there and talk to them about public health issues” including the quest for a vaccine, Pompeo said.
Experts say that even the Trump administration is aware of the real risks if tensions escalate over Taiwan, one of the most sensitive issues for Beijing’s communist leadership.
China considers Taiwan, where the mainland’s defeated nationalists fled in 1949, to be a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Douglas Paal, who headed the American Institute in Taiwan during George W. Bush’s presidency, said that the Trump administration was still paying heed to China’s red line — that no US official handling national security visit Taiwan.
Throughout the 1990s, the United States sent trade officials to Taiwan with regularity, Paal noted.
The difference this time, he said, is the context — with Azar traveling at a time that relations between Washington and Beijing have hit a new bottom.
“Sending him to Taiwan shows respect for the old framework while putting a finger in China’s eye at the same time,” Paal said.
“The fact that they didn’t choose to send a national security advisor or someone else suggests they are trying to come as close as possible to China’s red line but don’t want to cross it.”
The Trump administration has taken an increasingly hawkish turn on China, with Pompeo in a recent speech saying that the four-decade policy of engaging Beijing had failed.
In recent days, Trump has ordered sweeping restrictions on popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat, and the Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Hong Kong’s leader over a tough law that curbs dissent.
Paal said it was possible that hawks in the Trump administration would push more dramatic action on China before the November 3 election as Trump trails in the polls.
“I’m very clearly reading the Chinese as seeing that as a possibility and they are trying to avoid being drawn into that trip,” he said.
Taiwan has built broad, bipartisan support in Washington. President Tsai Ing-wen has been hailed not only for her decisive coronavirus response but also, among US Democrats, for her progressive views including advocacy of gay rights, unusual for an Asian leader.
An act of Congress requires the United States to sell weapons to Taiwan to ensure its self-defense against Beijing’s vastly larger armed forces.
In one of the biggest sales in years, the Trump administration last year approved an $8 billion fighter jet deal to replace Taiwan’s aging fleet.
The United States has also been more assertive in calling for Taiwan’s inclusion in international institutions, especially the World Health Organization.
Gerrit van der Wees, a former Dutch diplomat who teaches the history of Taiwan at George Mason University, said that Trump had initially seemed hesitant, delaying the plane sale as he sought a trade pact with China.
But recent actions including China’s clampdown in Hong Kong, its mass detention of Uighur Muslims and its military moves at sea have changed perceptions, he said.
Now the Trump administration “primarily sees it as an opportunity to push the envelope in terms of strengthening and deepening support for a Taiwan that has built a dynamic democracy and is a ‘force for good in the world,'” he said, using a frequent phrase of US officials.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar to Lead Delegation to Taiwan in First Visit by a U.S. HHS Secretary
In the coming days, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar will lead a delegation to Taiwan. This marks the first visit to Taiwan by an HHS Secretary, the first Cabinet member to visit in six years, and the highest level visit by a U.S. Cabinet official since 1979.
“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before it,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “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. This trip represents an opportunity to strengthen our economic and public health cooperation with Taiwan, especially as the United States and other countries work to strengthen and diversify our sources for crucial medical products.”
Secretary Azar’s historic visit will strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership and enhance U.S-Taiwan cooperation to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan’s role in the international community is critical, as demonstrated by its remarkable success battling COVID-19 as a free and transparent democratic society.
In 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, and this visit is part of America’s policy of sending high-level U.S. officials to Taiwan to reaffirm the U.S.-Taiwan friendship, pursue shared interests, and celebrate the shared values that bond the United States and Taiwan to the international family of democracies.
In contrast to authoritarian systems, U.S. and Taiwan societies and economies are uniquely equipped to drive global progress in areas such as medicine and science to help the world tackle emerging threats. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most recent example of joint U.S.-Taiwan efforts to confront global challenges for the good of the world.
On behalf of President Trump, Secretary Azar will meet with senior Taiwan counterparts, COVID-19 responders and experts, and other Taiwan partners to discuss the COVID-19 response, global health, the U.S.-Taiwan partnership, and Taiwan’s role as a reliable global supplier of medical equipment and critical technology.
The Secretary will also give a major speech while in Taiwan to public health graduate students and alumni of the U.S. CDC training program, where he will highlight Taiwan’s constructive role in the international community, especially in global public health.
The Secretary will be joined by Ambassador (ret) James F. Moriarty, Chairman of the Board of the American Institute in Taiwan; Dr. Mitchell Wolfe, Chief Medical Officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Brian Harrison, HHS Chief of Staff; Garrett Grigsby, Director of the HHS Office of Global Affairs; and other members of the Administration.
Additional information and details regarding the delegation’s meetings and site visits will be forthcoming in news releases and social media posts.
HHS and the Taiwan authorities have been closely coordinating health and safety protocols for the delegation’s visit.
Press Release by HHS
Updated on 12 August