China Uses HHS Secretary Azar’s Taiwan Trip As Opportunity to Test U.S.

COMMENTARY Asia

China Uses HHS Secretary Azar’s Taiwan Trip As Opportunity to Test U.S.

Aug 13th, 2020 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.
HHS Secretary Azar speaks at a press conference on August 11, 2020 in Taipei, Taiwan. SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The last thing Communist China wants is for other countries to treat free Taiwan with the respect and reciprocity it deserves.

Beijing hopes its oppression of Hong Kong will intimidate the Taiwanese. The Chinese Communist Party would like nothing better than to have Taipei fear it.

A strong U.S.-Taiwan relationship is the first and strongest step America can make in enhancing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

I believe in coincidences. I just don’t trust Beijing. 

So when Chinese fighters test Taiwanese airspace on the same day a U.S. cabinet official is visiting, I suspect it is not a coincidence. It is Beijing sending a message.

America’s message should be a big “hell NO!” We should double-down on our commitments to support the freedom and security of the Taiwanese people—and to expand efforts to ensure our joint prosperity.

This administration recently made a smart move, agreeing to send a senior cabinet official to Taipei. It was only the third time in 20 years that an American president dared risk Beijing’s wrath in this way. That announcement put Beijing on notice.

The last thing Communist China wants is for other countries to treat free Taiwan with the respect and reciprocity it deserves. Beijing toils ceaselessly to diminish international recognition of Taiwan, pressing nations to break relations with the island and seeking to ban Taipei from international forums and organizations. For example, China has stood in the way of allowing Taiwan any meaningful participation in the World Health Organization. As COVID-19 spread throughout the globe, this effectively denied the world quick, full access to Taiwan’s health expertise and assistance.

This week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar led a delegation to Taipei to discuss the COVID-19 response. The trip, Azar said, “demonstrates the robust US-Taiwan partnership on global health and health security, one of many aspects of our comprehensive friendship.” The visit not only reaffirmed the seriousness of the administration’s commitment to developing an effective global response to the coronavirus, it showed that America won’t be cowed by Beijing’s bullying tactics.

There is no better time for the United States to highlight its support for a free, secure and prosperous Taiwan. While Azar was in Taiwan, Beijing was busy in ratcheting up its oppression of the people of Hong Kong. Under the cover of Beijing’s recently passed National Security Law, authorities arrested Jimmy Lai, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy advocate, his associates and family members.

China’s rapid subjugation of Hong Kong’s political freedoms has been stunning. In the space of just a few months, Beijing has abrogated all the commitments made to the people of Hong Kong when the island was transferred from British control decades ago.

There is one simple reason why China is picking on Hong Kong: because it could. A bully always goes after those least able to fight back.

No doubt, Beijing hopes its oppression of Hong Kong will intimidate the Taiwanese. The Chinese Communist Party would like nothing better than to have Taipei fear it so much that it will cave to whatever demands Beijing might make.

A free and independent people, the Taiwanese won’t be so easily pushed around. Beijing needs to learn there are limits to the intimidation the free world will tolerate. In standing with Taiwan, the U.S. sends that message. By strengthening U.S.-Taiwan relations, America contributes to diminishing the prospects that Beijing bullying will work.

It is time build on the administration’s initiative. As soon as possible, it should announce its intention to conclude a free trade agreement with Taiwan. In addition to sending another strong message to Beijing, it would benefit both our economies. If the administration believes Taiwan should remove some barriers first before doing so, it should at least promise to begin free trade talks as soon as those barriers are gone. Taiwan is a real democracy; it needs that sort of reassurance in order to tackle tough trade issues.

Other nations can join in supporting Taiwan. There should be an international coalition pressing the WHO to immediately allow Taiwan’s meaningful participation in its work and proceedings. They should also join the U.S.-led effort to include Taiwan in other international organizations.

A strong U.S.-Taiwan relationship is the first and strongest step America can make in enhancing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. The sooner Beijing learns the limits to its destabilizing actions, the sooner we can learn how to live together in a region where cooperation, not competition, ought to be the norm.

This piece originally appeared in Fox News