U.S. health secretary, President Tsai hold historic meeting

08/10/2020 02:52 PM
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U.S. health secretary Alex Azar (left) and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
U.S. health secretary Alex Azar (left) and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

Taipei, Aug. 10 (CNA) United States Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar met with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Monday, in the highest-level official meeting between the two countries since 1979, when the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

Azar, who arrived in Taiwan with a delegation on Sunday, paid a call on Tsai at the Presidential Office, which was open to the media, and they later held a closed-door meeting.

"It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan," Azar said at the Presidential Office during the courtesy call, which was streamed live on several social media platforms.

Azar said the U.S. has expressed its admiration for Taiwan's democratic success in tangible ways, such as signing legislation to strengthen the bilateral partnership and opening a new office for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in 2018.

An attorney and former pharmaceutical industry executive, Azar said the focus of his trip is to highlight Taiwan's success in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and to build cooperation to prevent, detect, and respond to health threats.

President Tsai Ing-wen (center right) greets a member of the U.S. delegation led by HHS Secretary Alex Azar (right), who is accompanied by AIT Director Brent Christensen (center left)
President Tsai Ing-wen (center right) greets a member of the U.S. delegation led by HHS Secretary Alex Azar (right), who is accompanied by AIT Director Brent Christensen (center left)

On Tsai's part, she said she hoped the U.S. delegation's visits to the relevant agencies and institutions will give them a substantive view of Taiwan's efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

"The visit also provides us an opportunity to speak face-to-face on issues of importance to both sides and find a direction to future cooperation," Tsai added.

The president said she was anticipating significant progress on the joint efforts between Taiwan and the U.S. to develop and produce COVOD-19 vaccines and drugs.

She also thanked the U.S. for recognizing Taiwan's contribution to the global coronavirus response and for supporting Taiwan's efforts to expand its international participation.

She raised the issue of Taiwan's exclusion from the World Health Assembly (WHA), which has been due largely to objections by China, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory.

"I would like to reiterate that political considerations should never take precedence over the right to health," she said. "The decision to bar Taiwan from participation in the WHA is a violation of the universal right to health."

Azar is in Taiwan on a four-day visit, the first by a U.S. Cabinet member in six years, and he is the most senior U.S. government official to visit Taiwan since the U.S. severed official bilateral relations in 1979.

CNA video Aug. 10, 2020

The high-profile visit, seen by Taiwan as a huge gain in its ties with the U.S., may however strain the already tense relations between Beijing and Washington.

At a press briefing prior to the courtesy call on Tsai, Azar told reporters that "this visit is about Taiwan," in response to questions about the trilateral relations.

"This visit is about reaffirming our connections with Taiwan and the important role Taiwan plays in public health," he said.

In his opening statement at the press briefing, Azar said that his visit is "consistent with the U.S.' long-standing 'one China' policy and past engagement with Taiwan."

Meanwhile, Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), chairman of Taiwan's major opposition Kuomintang, told reporters on a separate occasion Monday that the Tsai administration should be careful in its handling of external affairs, particularly in light of the deteriorating relations between the U.S. and China.

(By Emerson Lim)

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