Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the highest US official to visit Taiwan in four decades, heaped praise on the island nation’s president for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, as Chinese fighter jets flew into the Taiwan Strait.
“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 told President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday.
The Trump administration has made it a point to express its support for Taiwan as tensions between Washington and the Chinese Communist Party continue to deteriorate over trade issues, the coronavirus pandemic and China’s strong-armed approach to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
“It’s a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan,” Azar told Tsai in the Presidential Office.
Azar, who arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, is the highest-ranking US official to visit since Washington cut off official ties to Taipei in 1979.
China, which views Taiwan as a rogue province, condemned Azar’s visit.
In an apparent sign of that discontent, Chinese air force jets briefly crossed into Taiwan’s side of the strait that separates it from China shortly before Azar met with Tsai.
The planes were tracked by land-based anti-aircraft missiles and were “driven out” by Taiwanese aircraft.
A senior Taiwan official told Reuters that China was obviously “targeting” Azar’s visit with a “very risky” move because the Chinese jets were within range of Taiwan’s missiles.
Azar pledged to share a coronavirus vaccine with the global community and Taiwan, which has one of the lowest infection rates in the world with fewer than 500 cases and seven deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“Our first priority of course is to develop and produce enough quantity of safe and effective FDA-approved vaccines and therapeutics for use in the United States,” Azar said.
“But we anticipate having capacity that, once those needs are satisfied, those products would be available in the world community according to fair and equitable distributions that we would consult the international community on,” he said.
More than 200 vaccine candidates are in development worldwide and Trump has vowed to have one ready before the end of the year.
With Post Wires