As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause despair worldwide, a, top U.S. health official arrived in Taiwan over the weekend to meet Taiwan’s president and her coronavirus prevention team.
Alex Azar II, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, arrived in Taipei on August 9th with meetings planned between Azar and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, along with Minister of Health Chen Shih-chung; the highest level visit in over forty years.
Yet, despite Taiwan’s long-lasting and normally close diplomatic relations with the U.S., many people have been concerned about, and even annoyed, with Azar’s visit at this time due to a reckless disregard shown for quarantine protocol.
None of Azar’s team are required to follow Taiwan’s normal quarantine guidelines to prevent COVID-19 infected individuals from entering the country.
Former Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Hung Hsiu-chu blasted Azar’s upcoming visit in an interview, “I don’t see the point of Alex Azar visiting Taiwan, and why can he get away with the 14-day quarantine (requirement)?”
To quell all doubts surrounding Azar’s visit, Minister Chen promised he will take full responsibility if anything happens.
But at time of typing there has been no clear response to the criticisms over Azar’s avoiding of government quarantine procedures.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Health Official had earlier said: “The purpose of the visit is to convey America’s recognition of Taiwan’s success in the virus prevention, and the U.S. believes an open and democratic society is the best cure for this pandemic.”
The same spokesperson added “The US Health Official (Azar) is going to keep in touch with Taiwan authorities. The whole team will also take the COVID test and provide the result ahead (of) the arrival.”
Face masks and social distancing will be required practices during the visit according to Minister Chen.
The visit also touches on the sensitive issue of cross-strait relations with China. Beijing has expressed strong dissatisfaction towards the visit.
On August 9th, a Chinese journalist asked Mike Pompeo, United States Secretary of State, about the visit, saying China would like to know the intent behind the visit, and reasons behind the visit taking place at this time.
Pompeo pointed out that the visit aims to start a conversation about coronavirus prevention with Taiwan, indicating this is no more than an “ordinary” visit.
He further suggested, “The United States always welcomes Taiwan to join the WHA discussion, but (this) has been opposed by China.”
Interactions between the U.S. and Taiwanese authorities have always been controversial in the eyes of China, and during the pandemic this is no different.
Whether this visit is ultimately a way of scoring political points, or really is for health related issues, it has once more put a global spotlight on Taiwan related issues.