US health chief Alex Azar to visit Taiwan

Highest-ranking US cabinet member to visit the self-ruled island since 1979

alex-azar US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar | Image courtesy: Alex Azar Twitter

The US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, along with a delegation, will visit Taiwan. The high-level trip is most-certain to anger Beijing, which claims the self-governing island as part of its territory.

China-US relations are already strained due to several topics, including the coronavirus, China imposing the national security law on Hong Kong and China’s claim on the South China Sea.

Taiwan has welcomed the show of support by the US in the face of unrelenting Chinese pressure.

During his visit, Azar will meet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said. He would also be meeting his Taiwanese counterpart, Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung and other senior officials on behalf of President Donald Trump to discuss the global pandemic response.

Azar’s will be the highest-ranking US cabinet member to visit the self-ruled island since 1979, when Washington formally switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing. “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 in a Reuters report. “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.”

Azar’s department is describing the trip as historic. Azar would be accompanied by Mitchell Wolfe, chief medical officer of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other members of the administration.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the nation is especially grateful for US support for its requests to get meaningful access to the World Health Organisation during the pandemic.