US Secretary of Health Alex Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, making him the highest-level US official to visit the island since the US changed diplomatic relations with China in 1979. On Monday, Azar met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
In 2018, President Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law, a bill that allows high-level US officials to visit Taiwan, and vice-versa. This act paved the way for Azar’s visit.
Azar’s visit is centered around the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration has used the pandemic to increase hostilities with China, criticizing Beijing’s response and praising Taiwan. “Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the Covid-19 pandemic and long before it,” Azar said in a statement released ahead of the visit.
After the Chinese Communist Party took control of Beijing in 1949, Washington’s ally Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang Party fled to Taiwan. Between then and 1979, the US recognized the island as China and had no diplomatic relationship with Beijing.
Since 1979 the US has formally recognized Beijing’s “One-China” policy and does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. But Washington has supported Taipei in other ways. The US regularly sells weapons and military equipment to Taiwan, and members of Congress openly voice their support for the island.
While it has not gained much traction, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) recently introduced the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act, which would authorize the US to take military action against Beijing in the event of a Chinese incursion on Taiwan.