U.S. health secretary lauds Lee Teng-hui for role in march to democracy

08/11/2020 08:07 PM
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United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks at National Taiwan University/ CNA photo Aug. 11, 2020
United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks at National Taiwan University/ CNA photo Aug. 11, 2020

Taipei, Aug. 11 (CNA) United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on Tuesday praised Taiwan's former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) as a great man in the global march to democracy.

During his address at National Taiwan University's (NTU) Public Health College, Azar said he would like to acknowledge the loss of Lee, who passed away on July 30 at the age of 97, as one of Taiwan's great heroes who laid the groundwork for many of Taiwan's successes.

"President Lee is not only one of the great men in Taiwan's history, but in the broader history of Asia and the world's march toward democracy," Azar said.

Lee, who held a doctorate degree from Cornell University, had great love for the United States, he continued.

Lee's legacy goes beyond political freedom as it has had a tangible effect on the lives of people in Taiwan and around the world today, Azar said.

"The democratic legacy he built has made Taiwan a leader not only in freedom and economic growth, but also in global health,"he said.

Speaking to the media prior to his address at NTU, Azar said he plans to pay his respects to Lee at the memorial at Taipei Guest House during his stay in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, in his speech on Tuesday, Azar reiterated U.S. praise for Taiwan's success in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Taiwan's approach to combating the virus through openness, transparency, and cooperation stands in stark contrast to the country where the virus began," he said, referring to China.

"The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day," he pointed out.

"I believe it is no exaggeration to say that, if this virus emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public," Azar said.

Instead, Beijing appears to have "resisted information-sharing, muzzling doctors who spoke out and hobbling the world's ability to respond."

Azar (right) and former Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), who was in attendance at Azar
Azar (right) and former Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), who was in attendance at Azar's address/ CNA photo Aug. 11

Azar said the world has now experienced two serious viruses that have emerged from China in the past two decades, namely, the SARS outbreak in 2003 and COVID-19.

"The issue is not which country is the source; the issue is how that country responds. There is very little about diplomacy that is simple. But when it comes to health, the expectations of the world community are quite commonsense: You can't get anywhere without transparency," he said.

"How can the world possibly work together to prevent, contain, and combat viruses unless we're willing to share information about these threats with each other?" he said.

In sharp contrast to China, he said he would like to thank Taiwan for setting "a positive example and for choosing, enthusiastically, to be a part of the global health community."

"In these trying times, the United States knows that we will always have a friend in Taiwan and we will not shy away from telling the rest of the world that they can rely on Taiwan too," he concluded.

Attendees at Azar
Attendees at Azar's address sit in alternate seats at an NTU lecture hall/ CNA photo Aug. 11, 2020

Azar and his delegation arrived in Taiwan on Sunday. The visit is the first trip to Taiwan made by a U.S. Cabinet-level official since 2014.

Azar met with President Tsai Ing-wen and Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) on Monday and with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) earlier Tuesday, before attending a banquet hosted by Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) at noon.

The AIT has not made public Azar's full itinerary nor has it disclosed when the delegation will leave Taiwan.

His visit is also being billed as the highest-level visit by an American Cabinet official since the break in formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979, when the U.S. officially recognized the People's Republic of China, because of the health secretary's rank in the order of succession to the U.S. presidency.

The health secretary is 12th in the order of succession. The highest ranking visit by a Cabinet official previously was by a transportation secretary, ranked 14th in the order of succession, in 2000.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan in 2014.

(By Chen Yun-yu and Joseph Yeh)

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