US cabinet member lauded Taiwan’s democracy and its progress in combating the coronavirus as he met Monday’s island leader during a historic visit that China slammed as a challenge to peace. Secretary of Health Alex Azar is in Taipei for a three-day visit billed as the highest-level US visit since it transferred diplomatic recognition from the island to China in 1979.
His trip comes with turbulent relations between the United States and China, with both sides challenging a wide range of economic, military and security concerns, as well as the coronavirus pandemic. Authoritarian China maintains that Taiwan is its own territory, and threatens to conquer it one day. Azar met President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday morning, urging that the island be recognised as a sovereign nation and loathed by the leaders of China.
This time, he said, the difference is the setting, with Azar traveling at a time when Washington-Beijing ties have reached a new low. “The fact that they didn’t choose to send a national security advisor or someone else suggests they are trying to come as close as possible to China’s red line but don’t want to cross it.” The last cabinet minister to visit Taiwan was in 2014 when the then head of the Environmental Protection Agency led a delegation.