Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen told the visiting US health secretary she believed there would be more breakthroughs in cooperation between Washington and Taipei following his visit, which has sharply infuriated mainland China.
US Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-level US Cabinet member to meet Tsai on Monday in a high-profile visit that saw him and his group landing in a flag-carrier American transport plane at Taipeiâ€™s Songshan airport on Sunday. Led by Azar, the groupâ€™s first public activity was a meeting with Tsai on Monday morning to convey US President Donald Trumpâ€™s support for the self-ruled island and admiration for its success in both democracy and containing the coronavirus outbreak.
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â€œIt is a true honour to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan,â€ Azar said in his meeting with Tsai at the islandâ€™s Presidential Office.
Stressing that the US admired Taiwanâ€™s democratic success, Azar said the US was pleased to strengthen cooperation and partnership with Taiwan.
â€œPresident Trump has signed legislation to strengthen the partnership between Taiwan and the United States, and in 2018, we opened a new American Institute in Taiwan a brick-and-mortar commitment to our treasured friendship,â€ he said, referring to the US opening of a new headquarters compound for AIT, the US de facto embassy in Taiwan in the absence of formal relations.
Azar, who is the highest-ranking Cabinet member to visit Taiwan since the US switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, said the purpose of his visit was to seek cooperation with Taiwan on health issues.
â€œThe particular focus of both my discussion with President Tsai and of our trip is highlighting Taiwanâ€™s success on health in combating Covid-19 and to cooperate with the US to prevent, detect and respond to the health threats,â€ he said.
Tsai expressed her appreciation for the USâ€™ strong support for Taiwan and its commitment to help the island expand its global participation, a move Beijing has found provocative and called a violation of Americaâ€™s â€œone-Chinaâ€ policy.
â€œI believe under cooperation and efforts between the two sides, there will be more breakthroughs, not only in combating the pandemic, but also in other areas and exchanges bilaterally,â€ she said.
â€œI want to use this opportunity to thank President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Health Secretary Azar as well as many other American friends for their persistent recognition of Taiwanâ€™s contribution to the world over the fighting of the pandemic,â€ she said, adding she also wanted to thank the US for its strong support for Taiwanâ€™s â€œglobal participationâ€.
She said Taiwan could have done more to fight the pandemic and other health issues were it not for â€œpolitical considerationâ€ by the World Health Organization. The global health body has rejected Taiwanâ€™s bid to join the World Health Assembly on the grounds that the island is not a state and has no rights to take part in United Nationsâ€™ activities.
Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be returned to the mainland fold, by force if necessary. It strongly opposed and warned the WHO against admitting Taiwan, a move drawing strong criticism from Trump, who announced the USâ€™ withdrawal from the global body from next year.
Azar was due to meet health officials, including the islandâ€™s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, tour the Central Epidemic Command Centre and sign a memorandum of understanding on US-Taiwan cooperation over Covid-19 and other health issues.
He is scheduled to meet Taiwanese Foreign minister Joseph Wu, vice-President William Lai and former vice-president Chen Chien-jen. Both Lai and Chen are public health experts.
Azar will also make a public speech at National Taiwan University on Tuesday and pay tribute to the late former president Lee Teng-hui on Wednesday.
Beijing has expressed its anger at the visit and threatened unspecified countermeasures.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the trip would send the wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces and seriously damage the peace and stability of the region.
â€œAny attempt to ignore, deny or challenge the one-China policy will end up in failure,â€ Wang said.