Trump of­fi­cial to visit Tai­wan

Health sec­re­tary will make land­mark trip, an­ger­ing China.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD -

TAIPEI, Tai­wan — The U.S. sec­re­tary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices is sched­uled to travel to Tai­wan in com­ing days in the high­estlevel visit by an Amer­i­can Cab­i­net of­fi­cial since the break in for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Taipei in 1979.

The visit by Alex Azar, and es­pe­cially a planned meet­ing with Tai­wan’s pres­i­dent, will prob­a­bly cre­ate new fric­tion be­tween the U.S. and China, which con­sid­ers Tai­wan a rene­gade prov­ince, to be an­nexed by force if nec­es­sary. Tai­wan is a key ir­ri­tant in the trou­bled re­la­tion­ship be­tween the world’s two largest economies, which are also at odds over trade, tech­nol­ogy, ter­ri­to­rial claims in the South China Sea and China’s re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus.

Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman Wang Wen­bin said his govern­ment had lodged “solemn com­plaints” over the visit with U.S. of­fi­cials in Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton.

“The Tai­wan is­sue is the most im­por­tant and sen­si­tive is­sue in China-U.S. re­la­tions,” Wang said in Bei­jing, adding that Wash­ing­ton needed to stop all of­fi­cial con­tact with Tai­wan and make good on its com­mit­ment to “avoid se­ri­ous dam­age to China-U.S. re­la­tions and peace and sta­bil­ity across the Tai­wan Strait.”

The U.S. main­tains only un­of­fi­cial ties with Tai­wan in def­er­ence to Bei­jing, but it is the is­land’s most im­por­tant ally and provider of de­fense equip­ment.

The Amer­i­can In­sti­tute in Tai­wan, which op­er­ates as Wash­ing­ton’s de facto em­bassy on the is­land, said Wed­nes­day that Azar’s “his­toric visit will strengthen the U.S.-Tai­wan part­ner­ship and en­hance U.S.-Tai­wan co­op­er­a­tion to com­bat the global COVID-19 pan­demic.”

In a tweet, Tai­wan’s For­eign Min­istry said it looked for­ward to wel­com­ing Azar and his del­e­ga­tion. “This is the high­est-level visit by a U.S. Cab­i­net of­fi­cial since 1979! Tai­wan and the U.S. are like-minded part­ners co­op­er­at­ing closely in com­bat­ing coro­n­avirus and pro­mot­ing free­dom democ­racy & hu­man rights world­wide.”

The min­istry said Azar would meet with in­de­pen­dence-minded Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen, with whose govern­ment Bei­jing cut off vir­tu­ally all con­tacts four years ago, and with For­eign Min­is­ter Joseph Wu and top health of­fi­cials.

Tsai tweeted that Azar’s “timely visit is an­other tes­ta­ment” to strong Tai­wan-U.S. ties.

The Amer­i­can In­sti­tute said Azar would dis­cuss the coro­n­avirus, global health and Tai­wan’s role as a sup­plier of med­i­cal equip­ment and tech­nol­ogy.

The visit is be­lieved to be sched­uled for next week, al­though the in­sti­tute said de­tails on the tim­ing and agenda would be an­nounced later.

Azar would be the first Health sec­re­tary to visit Tai­wan and the first Cab­i­net mem­ber to visit in six years, the last be­ing then-En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gina McCarthy. His Cab­i­net rank­ing is higher than that of pre­vi­ous U.S. vis­i­tors.

“Tai­wan has been a model of trans­parency and co­op­er­a­tion in global health dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic and long be­fore it,” Azar said in the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute state­ment. “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.”

Azar’s visit was fa­cil­i­tated by the 2018 Tai­wan Travel Act, which en­cour­aged send­ing higher-level of­fi­cials to Tai­wan af­ter decades dur­ing which such con­tacts were rare and freighted with safe­guards to avoid roil­ing ties with Bei­jing.

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