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China sends its fighter jets into Taiwan's airspace ahead of US Health Secretary Alex Azar's visit to Taipei

Taiwan's patrolling aircraft drove away the Chinese planes, while a senior Taiwanese official called it a 'very risky move' from Beijing
Alex Azar (Getty Images)
Alex Azar (Getty Images)

China on Monday, August 10, conveyed the message that it is far from okay seeing the US cozying up to Taiwan which it considers a part of its territory. The Asian power briefly flew two fighter planes across the midline of the Taiwan Strait shortly ahead of the visit by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to the island-nation, Reuters reported. The trip by Azar, who met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, marked the highest-level visit by an American official since 1979 and has added fuel to an already tense relationship between Washington and Beijing.

The recent months have seen the US-China relation plummeting because of various reasons -- from trade to the spread of coronavirus to Beijing’s iron-hard handling of the situation in Hong Kong. 

Pompeo has backed Taiwan's participation in World Health Assembly

The US has also sided with Taiwan, known as the Republic of China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backing the island-nation’s participation in the World Health Assembly in June. He said Taiwan’s presence will be “useful” for the global community at the time of the coronavirus pandemic. Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations in 1971 and the World Health Organization the next year. It has not been able to participate in the WHA since then, except for the period 2009-16 when it took part as an observer. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Getty Images)

China recently also added to its military presence near Taiwan after the US Navy found itself seriously hit by the pandemic. In May end, Beijing even threatened to take control of Taiwan as part of its ‘One China Policy’ if diplomacy failed. 

China condemned Azar’s visit at a time when its relationship with the US has hit a low. The health secretary reached Taiwan on Sunday, August 9, and gave coronavirus tests along with members of his team. The American delegates were seen wearing masks and they met members of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the director general of the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control and the director of the American Institute in Taiwan, called the de facto US embassy there. 
Soon after the news of Azar’s visit broke, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin slammed Azar’s trip and urged the US to stop all forms of official communication with Taipei and even threatened retaliation, The Washington Times reported. Soon after, Beijing flew its J-11 and J-10 fighter jets into Taiwan’s part of the narrow strait that separates it from China.

Taiwan’s land-based anti-aircraft missiles tracked the Chinese military planes and they were “driven out” by patrolling Taiwan planes, the air force said in a statement which was issued by the defense ministry, the Reuters report added. 

China’s defense ministry did not immediately react to the incident. 

'Beijing targeting Azar visit'

A senior Taiwan official having knowledge about the government’s security planning told Reuters that Beijing was clearly “targeting” Azar’s visit with a “very risky” move, given the Chinese planes were in range of Taiwan’s missiles. The latest incursion by the Chinese jets was the only time since 2016, Taiwan said. 

Meanwhile, Azar said on August 10 that his trip to Taiwan “demonstrates the robust US-Taiwan partnership on global health and health security, one of many aspects of our comprehensive friendship."

He said the US considers Taiwan as a “vital partner, a democratic success story and a force for good in the world.”

The health secretary later told reporters that at President Trump’s behest, he and Pompeo had sought to restore Taiwan’s status as an observer at the WHA.