Selin ATAY-TDO- The U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services is scheduled to visit Taiwan in coming days in the highest-level visit by an American Cabinet official since the break in formal diplomatic relations between United States and Taiwan in 1979.

The visit by Alex Azar is likely to create new friction between the U.S. and China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory. Taiwan is a key irritant in the troubled relationship between the world’s two largest economies, which are also at odds over serious issues including trade, technology, territorial claims in the South China Sea and China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

State media reported that China had urged the US “not to send the wrong signals to Taiwan secessionists”.

“The Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing. Foreign ministry spokesman said U.S. needs to stop all forms of official contact with Taiwan and make good on its commitment to China to “avoid serious damage to China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Washington maintains only informal ties with Taiwan in deference to Beijing, but is the Taiwan’s most significant ally and provider of defense equipment.                           

The American Institute in Taiwan, which operates as Washington’s de facto embassy on the island, stated that Azar’s “historic visit will strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership and enhance U.S-Taiwan cooperation to combat the global Covid-19 pandemic.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it looks forward to welcoming both Alex Azar and his delegation. “This is the highest-level visit by a U.S. Cabinet official since 1979! Taiwan and the U.S. are like minded partners cooperating closely in combating coronavirus and promoting freedom democracy & human rights worldwide” said in a tweet.

The American Institute in Taiwan said Alex Azar will discuss the coronavirus, global health and Taiwan’s role as a supplier of medical equipment and technology.

Even though, the American Institute in Taiwan said details on the timing and agenda would be announced later, the visit is believed to be scheduled for next week.

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