TAIPEI, KOMPAS.com – A contested US visit to Taiwan commenced on Monday during which a US cabinet member met with Taiwan’s leader as part of a three-day visit.
Health Secretary Alex Azar’s visit makes it the highest-level visit from the US since 1979 when it switched diplomatic recognition from the island to China in 1979, a trip that Beijing has condemned.
The agenda of the US visit to Taiwan includes promoting shared democratic values and the island's success in taming the coronavirus.
His trip comes as relations between the United States and China are in tumult, with the two sides clashing over a wide range of trade, military and security issues, as well as the pandemic.
China, which insists Taiwan is its own territory and vows to one day reclaim it, has described Azar's visit as a threat to "peace and stability".
On Monday morning, Azar met President Tsai Ing-wen, who advocates the island being recognised as a sovereign nation and is loathed by China's leaders.
"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 Tsai.
Tsai thanked the US for supporting its bid to be part of the World Health Organization (WHO), a body Beijing keeps the island frozen out of.
"Political considerations should never take precedence over the rights to health," Tsai said, calling Beijing's refusal to let Taiwan join "highly regrettable".
Azar brushed off China's criticism when asked about Beijing's anger over his visit.
"The message that I bring from the US government is one of reaffirming the deep partnership the United States has with Taiwan in terms of security, commerce, health care and shared common values of democracy, economic freedom and liberty," he told reporters before his meeting with Tsai.
Azar has previously been critical of Beijing's response to the coronavirus, which began in central China, as well as the WHO.
It was a theme he repeated on Monday.
"[Taiwan] knew very early on... to not trust some of the assertions coming out of there [Beijing] or validation from the World Health Organization," he said.
As well as meeting Tsai, Azar will hold talks with his counterpart Chen Shih-chung and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.