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U.S. health secretary to meet Tsai on visit to Taiwan: MOFA

ROC Central News Agency

08/05/2020 02:24 PM

Taipei, Aug. 5 (CNA) United States Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on an upcoming visit to the country, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

Azar's visit, which was announced Wednesday by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), will be the first by a U.S. Cabinet official since 2014.

Though the exact dates and itinerary of the trip have yet to be released, the ministry said Azar planned to meet with Tsai, as well as with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) and Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中).

"Dr. Azar is also scheduled to visit the Central Epidemic Command Center and take part in a discussion with medical experts, in order to strengthen the ties of medical cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S.," the ministry said in an English-language press release.

The ministry went on to praise Azar as "an unwavering friend of Taiwan," citing his support for Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA) and promotion of its "model" for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Presidential Office spokesperson Kolas Yotaka also welcomed Azar's planned visit, calling it "a testament to the friendly ties between Taiwan and the United States."

In response to Azar's planned visit, China has already expressed its objection and requested that the U.S. halt all government exchanges with Taiwan.

A spokesperson from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin (汪文斌), made the statement during a routine press conference on Wednesday and urged the U.S. to strictly adhere to the "One China" principle.

The U.S. must not "send any wrong signals to Taiwanese independence forces, so as to prevent harming U.S.-China relations and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait," Wang said.

In the U.S., meanwhile, Republican Congressman John Curtis tweeted that he was "delighted" to hear of Azar's planned visit to Taiwan.

"Especially fitting to send the Health & Human Services Secretary, given Taiwan's incredibly strong handling of the COVID-19 pandemic," Curtis wrote.

Randall Schriver, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs and co-founder of the Project 2049 Institute, a foreign policy think tank, told CNA he hoped such visits by U.S. Cabinet officials would become routine.

"Taiwan has been a global leader in combating the pandemic, and it's entirely appropriate for our top health officials to discuss the way forward," he said.

Meanwhile, former AIT Chairman Richard Bush said public health is an issue on which the U.S. and Taiwan have "much to discuss."

"Given the Trump administration's mishandling of the pandemic, perhaps Secretary Azar should learn how Taiwan handled it so well," he added.

Regarding the logistics of the trip, MOFA said Azar's delegation would follow special guidelines set by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) -- suggesting that they will not be required to observe the 14-day quarantine currently required for all travelers entering the country.

In accordance with the guidelines, members of the delegation will submit negative COVID-19 test results before departing, and will be tested again upon arrival in Taiwan, said MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安).

They will also take additional precautions, such as having their temperatures taken daily, wearing face masks, observing social distancing and traveling in designated vehicles, Ou said.

For safety reasons, the dates of the visit will not be announced at present, and information on the delegation's lodgings will remain private, she said.

(By Chen Yun-yu, Stacy Hsu, Chiang Chin-yeh and Matthew Mazzetta)

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