Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar concluded his trip to Taiwan Tuesday with a speech criticizing China, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Applauding Taiwan as a "model for the world in so many respects," Azar pushed for increased bilateral engagement with Taiwan. His trip to the island nation included a series of dialogues with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen. Topics included public health, balancing against China, and supply chain security. Azar is the highest ranking American official to visit Taiwan since 1979, when relations with communist China were normalized.
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Azar did not hesitate to blast China for its role in excluding Taiwan from international initiatives, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. Accusing China of "political bullying," he said Beijing had used its "influence not to advance public-health objectives, but its own narrow political interests."
Even with limited international assistance, Taiwan has weathered coronavirus better than many other countries. Official numbers show only 480 cases and 7 deaths in a population of nearly 24 million people.
Building on Taiwan’s public health success, Washington has worked with Taiwan on defense agreements. Last week, the United States greenlit the sale of at least four sophisticated aerial drones to the Taiwanese. Drone sales have historically been reserved for only the closest U.S. allies. Weeks earlier, Taiwan reached a $620 million agreement with U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin for Patriot Missile defense system upgrades.
U.S.-Taiwan collaboration and Azar’s visit have drawn the ire of Beijing, which pursues a "One China" policy under which foreign nations treat Taiwan as part of mainland China. During Azar’s visit, Chinese fighter jets were forced out of Taiwanese airspace in what one defense analyst called a "calculated response" to the American visit. Beijing also sanctioned Lockheed for their sale of the missile systems.
Taipei touted Azar's visit as a diplomatic success. "Taiwan will continue to work closely with the U.S. and other international partners to respond to challenges arising from the current pandemic and make contributions to the field of global health," read a press release from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office—Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the United States.
White House staff made similar remarks. The visit was intended to "demonstrate the robust U.S.-Taiwan partnership in health security, one of many aspects of our comprehensive and strategic bilateral relationship," one senior White House official told the Washington Free Beacon.