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Azar's Taiwan trip signifies strategic shift for US: Financial Times

Report says US health secretary’s visit to Taiwan could put it at greater risk

U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar (left) meets with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen Aug. 10. 

U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar (left) meets with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen Aug. 10.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Financial Times said Sunday (Aug. 9) that while U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar's visit to Taiwan is a sign of Washington's strategic shift, it could also put the island nation at greater risk given intensified pressure from China.

As Azar became the most high-profile U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 41 years on Sunday, the London-based newspaper pointed out in an article that his visit highlights the country's growing importance amid U.S.-China tensions. It described Washington as Taiwan's "unofficial protector" and quoted former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director William Stanton as warning that Beijing could take countermeasures if Taiwan and the U.S. continue to "push the envelope."

The report noted that the U.S. government has taken a rather cautious approach to its interactions with Taiwan, avoiding any official ties since it switched diplomatic relations to Beijing in 1979. However, with the global consensus starting to shift against China, the Trump administration has deepened its engagement with Taiwan and encouraged high-level visits between both sides.

Several U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, have also openly praised Taiwan for its democracy and referred to its leader Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) by her title — "president" — the report observed. However, some international experts are concerned that the U.S. is only using Taiwan as a pawn to upset China.

Shelly Rigger, a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina, told the Financial Times that some American officials have not taken Taiwan's economic interests into account and are only treating the upgraded bilateral relations as a way to demonstrate U.S. dominance. She stressed that the U.S. has not considered substantial bilateral trade talks with Taiwan and might change strategies if faced with serious risk.