US health chief lauds Taiwan's virus responseTop News | Agencies 11 Aug 2020
American health chief Alex Azar says his Taiwan visit is to strengthen economic and public health cooperation with the island and support its international role in fighting the coronavirus.
"Taiwan's response to Covid-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwan's society and culture," Azar told Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen yesterday.
Taiwan's early and effective steps to fight the disease have kept its case numbers far lower than those of its neighbors, with 480 infections and seven deaths.
The United States, which has had more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country, has repeatedly clashed with China over the pandemic, accusing Beijing of lacking transparency.
Tsai told Azar his visit represented "a huge step forward in anti-pandemic collaborations between our countries," mentioning areas of cooperation including vaccine and drug research and production.
Taiwan has been particularly grateful for US support to permit its attendance at the World Health Organization's decision making body, the World Health Assembly, and to allow it greater access to the organization.
Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to objections by China.
Azar later said that at Trump's direction, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had sought to restore Taiwan's status as an observer at the WHA.
"But the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization have prevented that," Azar said. "This has been one of the major frustrations that the Trump administration has had with the World Health Organization and its inability to reform."
Beijing has protested Azar's visit as a betrayal of US commitments not to have official contact with the island.
"I would like to stress again that the Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive issue in China-US relations," foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
"What the United States has done seriously violated its commitment on the Taiwan issue."
Azar's visit will put further pressure on China-US ties, but will not be seen as entirely unprecedented by China's leaders, said Shi Yinhong, an expert on international relations at Beijing's Renmin University
"Of course, there will be very negative impact on China-US relations, especially under the circumstances that China and the United States have fallen into confrontation in almost all areas,'' Shi said.