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Top US Health Official Discussed Fighting COVID-19 With Taiwanese Counterpart

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a visit to the GE Healthcare manufacturing facility, April 21, 2020, in Madison, Wis.

The top health officials from the U.S. and Taiwan conducted a rare telephone conference on Monday to discuss working together to fight COVID-19 as well as expanding Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, thanked Taiwan for its efforts to share resources and knowledge with the U.S. in fighting the coronavirus.

Taiwan has had surprising success in limiting the coronavirus outbreak to just 429 confirmed cases and six deaths. But Taiwan is neither a member of the WHO nor the United Nations because of opposition from China, which refuses to acknowledge it as a sovereign state.

Taiwan says those exclusions have challenged its ability to help the global fight against COVID-19.

Taiwan’s Health Minister, Chen Shih-chung, thanked Azar “for the strong support extended by the United States for Taiwan’s participation in the WHO,” according to a statement from Taiwan’s Health Ministry. The statement also said that Azar reaffirmed “the continued and concrete support from the U.S. of expanding Taiwan’s participation in the WHO and global health arena.”

The call between the two health officials is the latest example of cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan after they issued a joint statement last month to work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Steve Young, the former Director of the American Institute in Taiwan and Consul General in Hong Kong said this collaboration won't lead to membership in the WHO or anything long term as China has too much influence.

The positive thing, he said, is that "most of the world including the United States and a lot of international organizations recognize Taiwan is an important player and should have some role in issues like this — especially a pandemic that is sweeping the world."

Last week, American Institution of Taiwan Director W. Brent Christensen's told an audience in Taipei that Taiwan has emerged as the global model for COVID-19 prevention, and other countries can learn from it.

"Taiwan, a vibrant democracy and force for good, has emerged as the global model for COVID-19 prevention, and countries around the world could benefit from more opportunities to learn about the Taiwan Model and other areas in which Taiwan has world class expertise."

Christensen said the U.S.-Taiwan relations are illustrated in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent remarks highlighting that “during tough times, real friends stick together.”

The friendly words among U.S. and Taiwanese officials contrasts with relations between Washington and Beijing, which had been tense over trade issues and have since grown rockier as the Trump administration blames China and the WHO for not being transparent about the magnitude of the outbreak which has since spread around the world.

“As the world searches for solutions amidst a global health crisis, the United States is taking a position that Taiwan’s contribution must be included,” said Ryan Hass, a fellow and the Michael H. Armacost Chair in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The world needs all the help it can get at this moment, and Taiwan has a lot to offer.”

Nike Ching contributed to this report.