Health Secretary Azar Applauds Taiwan’s Leadership in Global Health

By Frank Fang

Taiwan’s foreign minister warns China is trying to ‘turn Taiwan into the next Hong Kong’.

TAIPEI, Taiwan—U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar emphasized the importance of having the island be part of the global health community in the current pandemic, in his second full-day visit to Taiwan’s capital of Taipei.

“It is an honor to be here to bring greetings from President Trump and to be here to recognize Taiwan’s health leadership,” said Azar in a joint press conference with Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu on the morning of Aug. 11.

Calling Taiwan’s success in containing the Chinese Community Party (CCP) virus “a model for the world,” Azar said: “The United States believes that Taiwan’s accomplishments should be recognized on the world stage.”

The CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. Taiwan’s first confirmed case of the virus was reported on Jan. 21.

Since then, Taiwanese health officials have effectively limited the spread of the virus through a combination of vigorous tracing of new cases and raising public awareness—without adopting any draconian measures such as putting cities into lockdown. Local public transportation has continued to operate without interruption, and schools and businesses have stayed open.

As of Aug. 10, Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, has 480 confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven deaths despite its close proximity (81 miles) to mainland China, which is ruled by the CCP. The island has a population of about 24 million.

“Taiwan should be able to share these lessons and its world-class expertise in international forums,” Azar said, pointing to how Taiwan has been excluded from the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2017.

From 2009 to 2016, Taiwan’s health ministers took part in the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the WHO, as observers. But since 2017, Taiwan has been barred at China’s request from taking part in the assembly and from all WHO meetings.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory, which must be reunited with the mainland despite the fact that the self-ruled island has its own military, democratically-elected officials, and currency.

As a result, Beijing has sought to diminish Taiwan’s international presence by pressuring countries and international organizations to recognize its claim of sovereignty over the island in exchange for warm relations with the mainland.

“Especially during a pandemic, but at all times, international organizations should not be places to play politics,” Azar said of the CCP’s actions.

Azar concluded: “We will continue advocating for the contributions Taiwan can make to the world on important issues like health.”

Azar’s trip is politically significant. He is the highest-level U.S. cabinet official to visit the island since 1979—the year the United States severed official diplomatic ties with the island in recognition of Beijing. He and his delegation arrived in Taipei on Sunday afternoon.

Currently, the United States maintains a robust, nondiplomatic relationship with Taiwan, and supplies the island with military weapons and equipment for its self-defense against Beijing.

After the conference, Azar held private talks with Wu as well as former Taiwan Vice President Chen Chien-jen and the island’s current health minister Cheng Shih-chung, according to local newspaper Liberty Times.

Also speaking at the press conference, Wu pointed out how Taiwan has donated about 51 million surgical masks worldwide since the start of the pandemic, including more than 10 million to the United States, as well as other protective personnel equipment.

Most recently, on Aug. 10, Taiwan donated 50,000 medical masks to the Manhattan Borough in New York City, according to local media.

Wu pointed out that sometimes Taiwan had chosen to deliver its medical donations quietly in order to keep their recipients “free from trouble—trouble from Beijing.”

He explained: “Our life has become increasingly difficult as China continues to pressure Taiwan into accepting its political conditions, conditions that will turn Taiwan into the next Hong Kong.”

China has offered to rule over Taiwan under a “one country, two systems” model—the same model is being used by Beijing to rule over Hong Kong since the city was handed back from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing’s offer has been soundly rejected by the public, all major political parties in Taiwan, and the current government headed by President Tsai Ing-wen.

“We know this is not just about Taiwan’s status but about sustaining democracy in the face of authoritarian aggression [from China]. Taiwan must win these battles so democracy prevails,” Wu added.

On Monday, Azar oversaw the signing of a landmark agreement on health cooperation between the United States and Taiwan.

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