US Health Secretary Alex Azar met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, becoming the highest-ranking American politician to hold a meeting on the island after over 40 years in a move that has irked China.
Besides the President, Azar is also scheduled to meet Minister of Health Chen Shih-chung, reports The Taiwan Times.
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None of Azar’s team are required to follow Taiwan’s normal quarantine guidelines to prevent COVID-19 infected individuals from entering the country.
Reacting to the meeting, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian urged “the US side to stop official interactions and contact of all kinds, as well as the upgrading of substantive relations with the island”, Xinhua news agency reported
When the visit was announced last week, the spokesman had said that “China firmly opposes any official interactions between the US and Taiwan” and “not to send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ elements to avoid severe damage to China-US relations”.
However, Azar, who arrived on the island on Sunday, said there were “three overarching themes” for the visit, reports the BBC.
“The first is to recognise Taiwan as an open and democratic society, executing a highly successful and transparent COVID-19 response,” he said.
“The second is to reaffirm Taiwan as a long partner and friend of the US.
“The third is to note that Taiwan deserves to be recognised as a global health leader with an excellent track record of contributing to international health,” the Health Secretary added.
Although Washington does not have a formal diplomatic relationship with Taipei, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act allows the US to sell arms to the island, and commits it to “close relations”, said the BBC report.