Azar to visit Taiwan amid tensions with China

Azar to visit Taiwan amid tensions with China
© Greg Nash

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar plans to visit Taiwan, officials announced Tuesday, as tensions between the U.S. and China continue.

The secretary will head to Taiwan as the highest-ranking U.S. Cabinet official to visit since 1979 and the first Cabinet member to go there in six years, according to an HHS statement. The department did not announce a specific date for Azar’s visit. 

HHS framed Azar’s trip as part of an effort to improve the U.S.’s relationship with Taiwan, which has largely managed the COVID-19 pandemic well, and to encourage economic and public health coordination between the two countries.

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“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before it,” Azar said in a statement. “I look forward to conveying President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE’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 is also expected to make a speech on “Taiwan’s constructive role in the international community, especially in global health” to public health graduate students and alumni of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) training program.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry announced Wednesday that the secretary will also meet with senior Taiwanese leaders, including President Tsai Ing-wen, The New York Times reported

Chinese officials spoke out against the announced visit, with Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying China was “firmly opposed to official interactions between the U.S. and Taiwan,” according to the Times.

Wang called on the U.S. to comply with the “one China principle” that designates Taiwan as part of China or risk damaging “Sino-U.S. relations and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.”

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“Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. relations,” Wang said.

Taiwan has been successful in combating the pandemic, with 476 confirmed cases and seven deaths since its start, according to data from Johns Hopkins University

Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Energy Department proposes showerhead standards rollback after Trump complaints | Interior memo scaling back bird protections is 'contrary to law,' court rules | Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset' Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset' Azar arrives in Taiwan amid tensions with China MORE, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was the last U.S. Cabinet official to visit Taiwan, in 2014. 

The HHS announcement comes as U.S. tensions with China have been increasing over issues including trade, technology, human rights and the pandemic, as the Trump administration has blamed the Chinese government for the spread of coronavirus. 

The relationship between China and Taiwan has been frayed since the end of China’s civil war. In 1949, the Nationalist leaders, who were defeated by the Communist Party, escaped to Taiwan and established the Republic of China, but Beijing maintains that Taiwan is a part of China.