US health chief to visit Taiwan, highest level trip since 1979

Health Secretary Alex Azar slated to visit Taiwan 'in coming days'

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Alex Azar. (Twitter, Alex Azar photo)

Alex Azar. (Twitter, Alex Azar photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will be leading a delegation to visit Taiwan, marking the highest-level visit by a U.S. official since 1979, according to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S. embassy in the nation.

In a press release issued on Wednesday (Aug. 5), the AIT stated that the purpose of Azar's visit at this time is to "strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership and enhance U.S.-Taiwan cooperation to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic." The statement then praised Taiwan's "remarkable success" in combating the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), demonstrating Taiwan's critical role in the international community as a 'free and transparent democratic society.'"

The statement pointed out that the Taiwan Travel Act, which was passed in 2018, calls for reciprocal visits by officials of both countries "at all levels." In this case, Azar will be meeting with his Taiwanese counterparts to discuss their response to the pandemic, worldwide health concerns, the partnership between the two nations, and the role Taiwan plays as "a reliable global supplier of medical equipment and critical technology."

During his visit, Azar will give a speech to public health graduate students and graduates of the U.S. CDC training program. Joining Azar on the visit will be James F. Moriarty, chairman of the board of the American Institute in Taiwan; Dr. Mitchell Wolfe, chief medical officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Brian Harrison, HHS chief of staff; Garrett Grigsby, director of the HHS Office of Global Affairs; and other members of the Trump administration.

The statement cited Azar as saying:

"Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before it." He added that he looks forward to relaying 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. This trip represents an opportunity to strengthen our economic and public health cooperation with Taiwan, especially as the United States and other countries work to strengthen and diversify our sources for crucial medical products.”

According to the press release, Azar and his delegation will be coming to Taiwan "in the coming days." The statement closed by emphasizing that American and Taiwanese health authorities will be collaborating on health and safety protocols for the visit.

In response to the news, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released a statement in which it said Azar and his delegation will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), and Health Minister and Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中). Azar will also visit the CECC and speak with medical and health experts to "strengthen the cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S. in epidemic prevention and medical care."

The ministry stated that Azal is "a long-term and firm friend of Taiwan." It pointed out that after assuming his post, he has strongly supported Taiwan's participation in the "World Health Organization" (WHO) and related activities and continues to back the country's participation in the "World Health Assembly" (WHA) and related international fields with "concrete actions."

The ministry then mentioned that Azar has publicly affirmed the importance of the "Taiwan Model" in the global fight against the coronavirus. The ministry expressed its "heartfelt thanks for his support."

MOFA then highlighted the fact that this is the first time a Cabinet-level official has visited Taiwan since 2014 and that Azar will be the highest-ranking American Cabinet-level official to have come to Taiwan since 1979. The ministry asserted that:

"This proves that with the joint efforts of Taiwan and the United States in recent years, the foundation of mutual trust between the two sides is solid and communication is smooth. It also demonstrates the firm support of the United States for Taiwan and the close and friendly relations between Taiwan and the United States."