U.S. plans first Cabinet-level visit to Taiwan in 6 years (update)

08/05/2020 10:50 AM
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Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Image taken from twitter.com/SecAzar)
Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Image taken from twitter.com/SecAzar)

Update: Aug. 6-U.S. health secretary to arrive in Taiwan Sunday; no quarantine planned

Taipei, Aug. 5 (CNA) Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will visit Taiwan in the coming days, the first trip to Taiwan by a Cabinet-level U.S. official in six years, the department said Tuesday.

Azar's visit is intended to "strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership and enhance U.S.-Taiwan cooperation to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic," the department said in a statement.

"Taiwan's role in the international community is critical, as demonstrated by its remarkable success battling COVID-19 as a free and transparent democratic society," the statement said.

Azar was quoted as saying that he looked forward to "conveying President Trump's support for Taiwan's global health leadership," which he called "a model of transparency and cooperation."

While the exact dates and itinerary of the visit have not yet been made public, the department said Azar planned to meet with senior counterparts in Taiwan, as well as with COVID-19 responders and experts.

They will discuss issues related to the pandemic, the U.S.-Taiwan partnership and "Taiwan's role as a reliable global supplier of medical equipment and critical technology," the statement said.

Azar will also deliver a speech to public health graduate students and alumni of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control training program, the statement said.

The delegation from the U.S. will include: American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman James Moriarty; Mitchell Wolfe, chief medical officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison; and Garrett Grigsby, director of the HHS Office of Global Affairs.

According to the department, Azar's visit to Taiwan will be the first by an HHS Secretary, as well as the first by a U.S. Cabinet official in six years.

The last visit by a U.S. Cabinet member to Taiwan occurred in 2014, when then U.S. President Barack Obama sent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy to the country.

It will also mark the first such trip since the U.S. Congress enacted legislation in March 2018 calling for the exchange of senior-level visits despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Prior to McCarthy's visit, former U.S. President Bill Clinton sent then-Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to Taiwan in 2000.

Azar, an attorney and former pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, has served as HHS Secretary since January 2018.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has strongly advocated for Taiwan to receive observer status in the World Health Organization (WHO) and on April 27 participated in a teleconference with Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) on COVID-19 response efforts.

(By Chen Yun-yu, Christie Chen and Matthew Mazzetta)

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