United States health secretary meets Taiwan’s leader, praises pandemic response



United States Health Secretary Alex Azar has praised Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as he met President Tsai Ing-wen at her office in Taipei on Monday.

Azar’s trip marks the highest-level visit by a United States Cabinet official to the island since 1979, when the two sides cut diplomatic ties.

Washington has said the trip will focus on strengthening cooperation between Taiwan and the United States, including on health.

“Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwan’s society and culture,’’ Azar said.

As of Sunday, Taiwan, with its 23.8 million people, has reported 480 coronavirus cases and seven virus-related deaths.

The visit, which has drawn ire from Beijing, came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China, in part regarding allegations about Beijing’s handling of the initial virus outbreak.

It also came at a time China was under pressure as to whether it tried hard enough to contain the virus after it was first discovered in Wuhan, China.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said Washington wanted Taiwan to be involved in the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation, but that “China has prevented that from happening,’’ in comments last week.

China considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory and objects to any effort to grant it recognition at international bodies.

Tsai said she agreed the situation was highly regrettable, during the meeting with Azar.

“I would like to reiterate that political consideration should never take precedence over the right to health.

The decision to bar Taiwan from participating in the WHA is a violation of a universal right to health,’’ Tsai said.

The WHO argues that it cannot invite Taiwan to its annual meeting without a formal decision by member countries.

Tsai told Azar and the United States delegation their visit marks a huge step forward in anti-pandemic cooperation between our countries.’’

She said joint endeavors will produce even more breakthroughs and fruits of cooperation beyond pandemic management work.

“We can jointly contribute to the sustained peaceful development of the Indo-Pacific region,’’ Tsai said.

Azar said he was honoured to be in Taipei to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan.’’

Taiwan and the U.S also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on health cooperation.

The event was witnessed by Azar and Taiwan Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung.

According to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which acts as the de facto United States embassy in Taiwan, the memorandum will strengthen ongoing cooperation on global health security, investigation, and control of infectious disease, research, prevention and treatment of chronic disease.

The institute added that the memorandum will also strengthen the development of drugs and vaccines,

“Taiwan has been a model of transparent, collaborative, cooperative public health and information-sharing,” it said.

In the middle of COVID-19, it is critical that we support and recognise those who share those values of transparency in health care, Azar told a news conference after the signing ceremony at the Central Epidemic Command Centre.

Azar also said that the WHO’s removing Taiwan’s observer status at the WHA deprives international public health community of the significant expertise and world class public health infrastructure of Taiwan.


Edited By: Halima Sheji/Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)

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