Trump official to visit Taiwan
Health secretary will make landmark trip, angering China.
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.