“We urge the U.S. to adhere to the one-China principle and the three joint communiques, stop making official interactions of any kind with Taiwan, handle Taiwan-related issues prudently and properly,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a Wednesday press conference.
Alex Azar is expected to meet with pro-democracy President Tsai Ing-wen, who has distanced Taiwan from mainland China and rejects the country’s one-China policy. Azar’s trip is the first by a Cabinet member in six years and the highest-level U.S. official to visit since 1979.
Wenbin warned the U.S. against embracing “Taiwan independence” in order “to avoid severe damage to China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Tsai welcomed the visit by Azar and noted the significance of the historical trip which comes after months of heightened tension between the U.S. and China, starting after the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.
“Your timely visit is another testament to the strong Taiwan-U.S. partnership based on our longstanding friendship & shared values,” she wrote.
Azar announced his trip Tuesday, a move that the administration likely knew would cause further tension with China, as an effort to “enhance U.S.-Taiwan cooperation to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before it,” Azar said in a statement Tuesday. “I look forward to conveying President Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health.”
Taiwan identifies as a country known as the Republic of China (ROC), which is separate from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But in 1971 the United Nations denounced the ROC and was replaced under the PRC as a one-China policy.
High ranking U.S. officials avoided trips to Taiwan following 1979, in an effort to maintain peaceful relations with China.
China protested the U.S.’s last envoy to Taiwan, six years ago when then-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy visited.
China has rejected any official or unofficial links between the Washington D.C. and Taipei.
“I want to stress that the one-China principle is universally recognized by the international community. Any attempt to ignore, deny or challenge that principle is doomed to fail,” Wenbin told reporters Wednesday.
Taiwan’s strong measures in tackling the coronavirus has been another defining separation from mainland China, and received international attention from the U.N. as the island of 23 million has recorded just 476 confirmed cases and seven deaths.
“In contrast to authoritarian systems, U.S. and Taiwan societies and economies are uniquely equipped to drive global progress in areas such as medicine and science to help the world tackle emerging threats,” Azar said. “The COVID-19 pandemic is the most recent example of joint U.S.-Taiwan efforts to confront global challenges for the good of the world.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.