WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Health Secretary Alex Azar said on Thursday his upcoming trip to Taiwan was designed to reaffirm the U.S. partnership with the Asian country, which he praised for its transparency and cooperation in the public health field.
"This is about Taiwan, and the United States and the partnership we've had in public health," Azar said in an interview with MSNBC.
Azar, the highest-level U.S. official to visit the island in four decades, did not address a question on the wisdom of provoking China's wrath with the trip. China considers Taiwan a renegade province.
Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority, and boosted arms sales.
President Donald Trump and members of his administration have criticized China for its lack of transparency in dealing with the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, and the U.S. president continues to call it the "China virus."
In an indirect swipe at China's handling of the virus, Azar said: "Taiwan has been a model of transparency cooperation and collaboration in the public health sphere whether working on Ebola in the Congo, or on COVID, and I'm going there to reaffirm that partnership and Taiwan's important role in the international public health community."
Azar criticized the World Health Organization for denying Taiwan even observer status for the last three years.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown)