China, which claims the island as its own, condemned the visit, which comes after a period of sharply deteriorating relations between China and the United States.
China, which had promised unspecified retaliation for the trip, briefly flew J-11 and J-10 fighters from the Taiwanese side of the sensitive and narrow strait that separates it from its giant neighbor, around 9 a.m. (01:00 GMT), shortly before. Azar met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwan Air Force said.
The planes were followed by land-based Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles and were “chased” by Taiwanese patrolling planes, the air force said in a statement issued by the defense ministry.
China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately comment.
Senior Taiwan official familiar with government security planning told Reuters China was clearly “targeting” Azar’s visit with “very risky” action given that Chinese planes were within range of Taiwan’s missiles. .
The incursion was only the third time since 2016 that Taiwan has said Chinese jets have crossed the strait’s center line.
The Trump administration has made boosting its support for the Democratic Island a priority, amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, and boosted arms sales.
“It is a real honor to be here to deliver a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan,” Azar told Tsai in the presidential office, standing in front of two Taiwanese flags.
Washington severed official relations with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing.
Azar is visiting to strengthen economic and public health cooperation with Taiwan and support its international role in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
“Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and it is a tribute to the open, transparent and democratic nature of Taiwanese society and culture,” he told Tsai .
Taiwan’s early and effective measures to combat the disease have kept the number of cases far lower than its neighbors, with 480 infections and seven deaths. Most of the crates were imported.
The United States, which has recorded more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country, has clashed with China on several occasions during the pandemic, accusing Beijing of lacking transparency.
Tsai told Azar that his visit represented “a huge step forward in anti-pandemic collaborations between our countries,” mentioning areas of cooperation including research and production of vaccines and medicines.
Taiwan was particularly grateful for the support of the United States to enable it to participate in the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, the World Health Assembly (WHA), and to allow it better access to the ‘organization.
Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to objections from China. China considers Taiwan to be a Chinese province.
“I want to reiterate that political considerations should never take precedence over rights to health. The decision to ban Taiwan from participating in the WHA is a violation of universal health rights, ”Tsai said.
Azar later told reporters that, under Trump’s leadership, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to restore Taiwan’s status as an observer at the WHA.
“But the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization prevented this. This is one of the main frustrations the Trump administration has had with the World Health Organization and its failure to reform.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Edited by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel
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