China says US Health Secretary's visit to Taiwan ‘endangering peace’ in region

US Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar says he looks forward to conveying US President Donald Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership amid the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING/TAIPEI (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS) - China said on Wednesday (Aug 5) that a visit by a top US Cabinet member to Taiwan is endangering "peace and stability" in the region, with relations between the two powers at historic lows.

Washington's de facto embassy in Taipei said US Health Secretary Alex Azar would lead a delegation to the self-ruled island, which Beijing claims as part of China and has vowed to one day seize.

"China firmly opposes official exchanges between the US and Taiwan," Mr Wang Wenbin, a spokesman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

"We urge the US to abide by the one-China principle...stop all forms of official exchanges with Taiwan...and refrain from sending any wrong signals to the Taiwan independence forces," Mr Wang said.

Mr Azar will visit Taiwan in the coming days, making the highest level visit by a US official in four decades, his office said on Tuesday.

During his visit, Mr Azar will meet President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement.

China describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in Sino-US ties, and Mr Azar's visit will further inflame already poor Beijing-Washington relations.

"Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the Covid-19 pandemic and long before it," Mr Azar said in a statement.

"I look forward to conveying President (Donald) Trump's support for Taiwan's global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health."

His department, describing the trip as historic, said Mr Azar would be accompanied by Dr Mitchell Wolfe, Chief Medical Officer of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and other members of the administration.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, having ditched Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979, but is its main arms supplier and strongest backer on the international stage.

Ms Gina McCarthy, then head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was the last US Cabinet-level official to visit the island in 2014.

Taiwan has won praise for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, having kept its case numbers low due to effective and early prevention steps.

In April, Mr Azar held a teleconference with Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

Mr Trump signed a new law in March requiring increased support for Taiwan's international role. China threatened unspecified retaliation in response.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.