U.S. Secretary of Health and Humanitarian Affairs Alex Hazard is due to visit Taiwan in the coming days, the most senior visit by a U.S. government official since the end of official diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979.
The visit and, above all, the planned meeting with the President of Taiwan are likely to create new frictions between the United States and China, which claims that Taiwan is its territory and will annex it if necessary. Taiwan is a major irritant in the complex relationship between the world’s two largest economies, which are also in conflict over trade, technology, the South China Sea and China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Out of respect for China, the United States maintains only informal relations with Taiwan, but is the island’s most important ally and supplier of defense equipment. The US Institute in Taiwan, which effectively acts as Washington’s embassy, said today that “Azar’s historic visit will strengthen the US-Taiwan partnership and strengthen US-Taiwan cooperation in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On Twitter, the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said it expected to welcome Hazard and his delegation: “This is the highest-ranking visit by a U.S. cabinet official since 1979! Taiwan and the United States intend to work closely together to fight the coronavirus and the promotion of free democracy and human rights throughout the world. ”
The ministry said Hazard would meet with President Tsai Yingwen, a pro-independence and whose government Beijing cut off all four years ago. He will also meet with Taiwanese Foreign Minister Zhaushei Joseph Wu and senior health officials.
The American Institute said that at its meetings, Hazard will discuss the disease, world health and the role of Taiwan as a provider of medical equipment and technology. The visit is expected to take place next week, but according to the American Institute, details of the time and agenda of the visit will be announced later.
Hazard will be the first health and humanitarian minister to visit Taiwan and the first cabinet member to visit in six years. The last was the then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, who has a lower rank than Hazard. “Taiwan was a model for transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before that,” Hazard said in a statement from the AIT. “This visit is 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 their sources of key medical products,” he added.
Azar’s visit was eased by the 2018 Travel to Taiwan Act, which encourages the sending of high-ranking officials to Taiwan after decades of such contacts being sparse and burdened with precautions to keep relations with Beijing from deteriorating. The 2014 visit of then-Environment Agency administrator Gina McCarthy sparked protests from China’s foreign ministry, which accused the United States of failing to honor its commitment to maintain only informal ties with Taipei.
China opposes any official contacts between Taiwan and the United States. But its growing diplomatic pressure, including attracting Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies and excluding the island from international assemblies such as the World Health Assembly, has fueled Washington’s already solid bipartisan sympathy for Taiwan and led to new measures to strengthen military ties. connections. Taiwan’s strong performance in dealing with COVID-19 won a standing ovation from the United States, noting the island’s non-participation in the World Health Organization and other UN bodies.
“Unlike totalitarian systems, the societies and economies of the United States and Taiwan are extremely prepared to drive global progress in areas such as medicine and science to help the world deal with emerging threats,” the American Institute said. He said “the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest example of a joint US-Taiwan effort to meet global challenges for the good of the world.” / BTA