Washington to send its most eminent delegation since 1979

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The United States will soon send its most eminent delegation to Taiwan since it stopped diplomatically recognizing the island in 1979, a gesture that risks aggravating Sino-American tensions.

The US office in charge of trade relations with Taiwan has confirmed that US Secretary of Health Alex Azar will head the delegation to visit the island.

“This marks … the first visit by a member of the government in six years,” said the American Institute in Taiwan, adding that no member of the United States of this rank has been there. “Since 1979”.

It was that year that the United States severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in order to recognize the Beijing-based Communist government as China’s sole representative.

They remain, however, with some ambiguity, the island’s most powerful ally and its main supplier of arms.

Taiwan confirmed the next visit, specifying that Mr. Azar would meet President Tsai Ing-wen on this occasion.

“Mutual trust”

“Minister Azar has long been a close friend of Taiwan,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that this visit was “a proof of the solid foundations of mutual trust” between Washington and Taipei.

Neither Taiwan nor the United States has specified the date of this visit.

Despite bilateral ties, the United States has traditionally been cautious about the nature of official bilateral contacts.

However, that changed with Donald Trump, who moved closer to Taiwan as relations deteriorated with Beijing on a number of subjects.

The island’s remarkable successes against Covid-19 and its assertion as one of the most progressive democracies in Asia have also earned it broad support on the American political spectrum.

Shortly after his election, Donald Trump became the first US president to meet with his Taiwanese counterpart since 1979, when Tsai called him to congratulate him.

The Trump administration has ramped up sales of sophisticated military equipment to the island, including last summer’s sales of hunters.

The last visit to Taiwan by a member of the US government was in 2014 by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The previous one dated back to 2000, when Bill Clinton’s Transportation Secretary visited the island.

“Transparency model”

In their press releases, Washington and Taipei present Mr. Azar’s visit as linked to the pandemic.

Despite its geographic and commercial proximity to mainland China, where the epidemic started, Taiwan has recorded fewer than 500 cases of coronavirus, and seven deaths, thanks to a very thorough strategy of screening and tracing of contacts. that the patients had had. The island also took the initiative very early to close its borders.

“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in health during the Covid-19 pandemic, and long before that,” Mr. Azar said.

China should not fail to condemn this visit, which has made every effort to isolate the island even more since the arrival to power in 2016 of Ms. Tsai, from a political formation traditionally hostile to Beijing.

The People’s Republic of China considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces. The island is ruled by a rival regime which took refuge there after the communists seized power on the mainland in 1949, at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Taiwan is not recognized as an independent state by the UN. And Beijing threatens to use force in the event of a formal proclamation of independence in Taipei or outside intervention – notably from Washington.

“Beijing will strongly oppose the visit and likely see it as further proof that the Trump administration is turning its back on the ‘One China’ policy,” Center Bonnie Glaser told AFP for strategic and international studies.

“But it does not constitute a precedent and it is justified in view of the exemplary performance of Taiwan against Covid-19 and the exclusion of Taiwan from the WHO under Chinese pressure.”

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