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Alex Azar on Taiwan’s Coronavirus Response

HHS Secretary Alex Azar listens during a roundtable discussion in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan earlier this week, meeting with its president and other key officials. The trip came amid troubling developments in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy activists were recently arrested by the city’s police force. Those developments alarmed many in Taiwan, which worries that it will be the Chinese Communist Party’s next target, fulfilling Beijing’s decades-long quest to reunite it with the mainland. Unsurprisingly, CCP officials were not happy with the visit. The day that it began, two Chinese fighter jets crossed the Taiwan Strait’s midway line.

Azar’s visit served to provide U.S. assurances that it would stick with its partner. The trip itself reflected a change in American policy toward closer ties with Taiwan, and it was made possible by the 2018 Taiwan Travel Act, which allows for senior U.S. officials to visit Taiwan and for Taiwanese officials to come to the United States.

Speaking at National Taiwan University Tuesday, he gave remarks reflecting the administration’s view on Taiwan’s role in the world, focusing on its coronavirus response:

The Taiwan model of excellence in combating the virus has been obvious to us all. Taiwan’s approach to combating the virus through openness, transparency, and cooperation stands in stark contrast to the country where the virus began. . . .

I believe it is no exaggeration to say that, if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public.

Azar’s point about Taiwan’s success is crucial. Its leaders worked to protect the island’s residents from the coronavirus at its outset. Taking the lessons from SARS to heart, Taipei distrusted Beijing’s public comments and prepared for the worst. Stating the obvious, of course, is politically inconvenient for Beijing, and for the global health authorities over whom it has significant sway.

For one, Azar’s speech is a stark reminder of the WHO’s failures by way of its anti-Taiwan bias. Officials have neglected to cooperate with Taiwanese officials, and China successfully blocked it from participating in the World Health Assembly. As Axios’s China newsletter reminds us, WHO staff even endorsed pro-Chinese Communist Party conspiracy theories from a fringe website to tarnish Taiwan’s reputation.

In the post-coronavirus world, the CCP has accelerated its efforts to snuff out examples of Chinese democracy, as evidenced by its latest moves in Hong Kong. Azar’s remarks Monday provide a reminder that Taiwan’s stellar coronavirus response ought to terrify Beijing and embarrass its WHO apologists.

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