TAIPEI, Taiwan — The US’ prime well being official lauded Taiwan’s democracy on Monday as he met with the island’s chief for a go to laden with symbols of stronger ties between Washington and the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.
Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of well being, is the very best rating American official to go to Taiwan since Washington severed official ties with the island in 1979 and established formal diplomatic relations with the Communist authorities in Beijing. Mr. Azar landed on Sunday at Songshan Airport, in downtown Taipei, and was met by Brent Christensen, the de facto ambassador, and Taiwanese officers.
Mr. Azar’s journey ought to have been unremarkable — a go to by an American well being secretary to an unofficial ally in Asia that has been among the many few success tales of the coronavirus pandemic. However with relations between the US and China in a downward spiral, Mr. Azar’s journey has taken on better significance. His go to factors to the more and more essential position Taiwan will play — and the dangers the island will face — in a brewing ideological battle between the world’s two largest economies.
“It’s a true honor to be right here to convey a message of robust help and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan,” Mr. Azar stated in remarks on the Taiwanese presidential workplace earlier than heading into a gathering with Tsai Ing-wen, the island’s chief. “Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 has been among the many most profitable on the planet, and that could be a tribute to the open, clear, democratic nature of Taiwan’s society and tradition.”
Taiwan has welcomed Mr. Azar’s go to as an opportunity to strengthen relations with the US, its strongest navy backer, and to showcase its extensively praised response to the virus, which it achieved regardless of efforts by China to diplomatically isolate the island.
As of Monday, the island of 23 million off the southeastern coast of China had reported just 480 coronavirus cases and 7 deaths. Taiwan’s officers have sought to construct on that success to promote the island as a model of democracy, partially by sending tens of millions of masks labeled “Made in Taiwan” to international locations in want.
“Over the previous couple of months, Taiwan and the U.S. have labored collectively to confront the problem posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ms. Tsai stated in remarks welcoming Mr. Azar. The 2 officers wore blue surgical masks as they met.
“When the folks of Taiwan noticed footage of White Home officers sporting ‘Made in Taiwan’ masks, they have been comfortable that these merchandise have been serving to folks in companion international locations,” she stated.
Mr. Azar’s go to brings to the fore a perennial supply of friction between the US and China. China’s ruling Communist Celebration claims Taiwan as its personal and objects to official exchanges with the self-governed island. China’s chief Xi Jinping has stated that Taiwan is an important subject in relations with the US and has vowed to annex the territory by pressure if crucial.
However speak of a brand new Chilly Warfare has intensified as tensions between the Trump administration and Beijing have surged over geopolitics, human rights, commerce and know-how. Because the election in the US approaches, the Trump administration has taken an more and more gloves-off method to coping with China’s authoritarian authorities, opening new fronts within the confrontation almost each week. Previously month, there have been contemporary clashes over consulates, journalists’ visas and Chinese social networking apps.
Mr. Azar’s journey is being billed as a chance to strengthen financial and public well being cooperation between Washington and Taipei and to tout democratic governance as the very best mannequin for safeguarding public well being. His go to is consistent with a apply courting again to the Clinton administration of dispatching senior American officers in financial or technical posts to the island. The final cabinet-level go to to Taiwan was a 2014 journey by Gina McCarthy, then-administrator of the Environmental Safety Company.
To critics of the Trump administration, the timing and extremely publicized nature of Mr. Azar’s go to displays the federal government’s need to distract from its personal failed response to the virus. The US handed a grim milestone over the weekend, with 5 million recognized instances — essentially the most of any nation — and greater than 161,000 deaths from the coronavirus, based on a New York Times database.
The go to can be a check of China’s tolerance of the US’ help for Taiwan on the most unstable time within the relationship between Beijing and Washington in many years. Each powers have in current months stepped up their navy presence within the area, fueling considerations concerning the rising danger of a confrontation, whether or not supposed or not.
Beijing has vowed to take countermeasures for Mr. Azar’s go to to Taiwan. China has already lodged a proper grievance with Washington and urged it to not “gravely injury” relations.
Some consultants, nonetheless, say China may select to undertake a comparatively restrained response as a result of the US has beforehand despatched cabinet-level officers to go to Taiwan. There are additionally considerations that additional provocations may push Mr. Trump into taking extra actions on Taiwan.
“The Chinese language aspect — the entire world — is speculating that Trump may make some much more extreme adventures in his China coverage to avoid wasting his prospect of re-election,” together with by breaching China’s “very severe backside line over Taiwan,” stated Shi Yinhong, a professor of worldwide relations at Renmin College in Beijing.
The choice to ship Mr. Azar comes amid rising frustration in Washington over what’s seen as China’s outsized affect on the US’ relationship with Taiwan, now probably the most vibrant and affluent democracies in East Asia.
No sitting Taiwanese president has been allowed to go to Washington, and ties between the US and Taiwan are managed by quasi-official establishments just like the American Institute in Taiwan which points visas and supplies different fundamental consular companies.
“A variety of what the U.S. does with Taiwan has been so restricted primarily based on Chinese language reactions,” stated Jessica Drun, a nonresident fellow on the Mission 2049 Institute, a nongovernmental group in Virginia that research safety and coverage points in Asia. “We’ve got turn into oversensitized to China’s reactions they usually’re conscious of this.”
There are doubts about Mr. Trump’s private dedication to Taiwan. Not too long ago, John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former nationwide safety adviser, wrote in his memoir that the president had repeatedly disparaged the island’s significance, evaluating Taiwan to the “tip of certainly one of his Sharpies.”
Publicly, Mr. Trump and his administration have been much more supportive. In 2016, the then president-elect broke with almost 4 many years of diplomatic apply when he accepted a congratulatory telephone name from Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen.
In 2018, Mr. Trump, over China’s objections, signed the Taiwan Journey Act, which inspired high-level official visits between the 2 sides, paving the best way for Mr. Azar’s go to. The US stays the island’s prime arms provider, and the administration has authorised further weapons gross sales to Taiwan.
Chan Chang-chuan, a professor of public well being at Nationwide Taiwan College, stated that one space during which People may enhance their help for Taiwan was in coronavirus-related therapeutics. The US and China are at the moment among the many international locations main the race to develop a vaccine.
“I do have a really robust want that Secretary Azar can hearken to what we actually want,” Mr. Chan stated. “If we get nothing and China has a vaccine, then it will be like if we didn’t have good weapons to defend our safety. It’s strategic.”