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US health chief to make the oldest visit to Taiwan in decades

The trip, planned “in the coming days,” will be the highest-level visit by a U.S. government official to the island since 1979, when Washington severed official ties with Taiwan to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, a statement from US Health and Human said. Services (HHS) Department.

The high-profile trip is likely to worsen Beijing-Washington relations, which have been sniffing at their lowest point in decades this year. For years, tensions and rivalries have sunk between the world’s two largest economies over trade, technology and geopolitics, but the coronavirus pandemic has given another blow to their already strained ties.

During his visit, Azar will meet with senior Taiwanese colleagues, Covid-1

9 respondents and experts on behalf of US President Donald Trump to discuss the global pandemic response, the US-Taiwan partnership and the island’s role as a “reliable global supplier of medical equipment and critical technology “, according to the statement.

“Taiwan has been a model for transparency and cooperation in global health during the Covid-19 pandemic and long before,” Azar said in a statement.

“I look forward to conveying President Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership and emphasizing our common belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health,” he said.

The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said the visit would be “a testament to solid mutual trust and smooth communication between Taiwan and the United States” and the “close partnership that the two nations share.”

The United States does not maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it remains a staunch supporter of the island and its primary arms supplier.

The last time a US cabinet official visited Taiwan was six years ago, when former President Barack Obama sent Gina McCarthy, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, to the island in 2014. The visit led to a fierce protest from Beijing, with its foreign ministry expressing “resolute opposition and strong dissatisfaction.”

Growing tensions

Taiwan has emerged as one of the focal points for the escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing. Last month, China said it would impose sanctions on US company Lockheed Martin for its involvement in large-scale US arms sales to Taiwan.

During the pandemic, the United States and Taiwan have also forged closer ties in the field of public health.

In April, Azar spoke with his Taiwanese counterpart Chen Shih-chung about fighting the coronavirus outbreak and thanked him for “Taiwan’s efforts to share their best practices and resources with the United States,” Azar said on Twitter at the time.

The United States also led a diplomatic campaign to restore Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA), an annual meeting of World Health Organization (WHO) members. Under the leadership of the United States, a group of eight countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia, issued a joint letter calling for Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, a move that drew Beijing.

Taiwan's success in the fight against coronavirus has strengthened its global position.  This has angered Beijing

Since Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, Beijing has blocked the island from participating in the WHA as part of a broader drive to isolate it on the international stage, as cross-border relations have deteriorated.

China’s ruling Communist Party sees autonomous democracy as an integral part of its territory to be taken by force if necessary, even though it has never controlled Taiwan.

Beijing blames Tsai as the pro-independent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHA.

“Since the DPP took office in 2016, it has insisted on so – called ‘Taiwan independence’ and refused to acknowledge the fact that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to China,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the WHA meeting in May.

“The purpose of some countries’ discussion of Taiwan-related proposals is to seriously interfere in the WHA’s agenda and undermine international cooperation in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,” Zhao said.

In the end, Taiwan was again excluded from this year’s WHA, during which the United States expressed its “deep disappointment.”

“It is … critical that Taiwan participates as an observer at the WHA to gain the helpful perspective on their effective and exemplary response,” Azar said in an address to the WHA on May 18.

“The WHO barred Taiwan from participating in 2016 just a few months after Taiwan’s free and fair elections. 23 million Taiwanese health workers should never be sacrificed to send a political message,” he said.

In a statement on Wednesday, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry called Azar an “unattended friend of Taiwan” for his firm support for Taiwan’s involvement in the WHO and related events.

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