Taiwan on Monday said political considerations should not take precedence over health with reference to the World Health Organization (WHO) barring the island nation from the World Health Assembly held last May.

Addressing a news conference aired live online by the American Institute of Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen said: “Throughout this [COVID-19] pandemic, Taiwan has demonstrated that it is not only able to hold the line of its defenses but can also assist and coordinate with other countries in the fight against the disease.”

Tsai was briefing media after a meeting with US Secretary of Health Alex Azar on an official visit.

“Thank you, President Tsai, for welcoming me to Taiwan today. It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from the United States to Taiwan,” Azar said.

This was highest-level visit by any US official in last 41 years since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979.

“Honored to be here to convey our support for Taiwan and their global health leadership,” Azar said. “Taiwan had tremendous success in detecting COVID-19, managing the outbreak and sharing this valuable information with other nations.”

Taiwan has reported only 480 coronavirus cases since the outbreak receiving international praise for its management of the pandemic. Seven people have died due to the COVID-19.

Referring to the WHO’s denial of Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly, Tsai said: “I would like to reiterate that political considerations should never take precedence over the right to health. The decision to part Taiwan from participating in the WHO is a violation of the universal right to health.”

The top US official’s visit came amid high tensions between Washington and Beijing over Hong Kong after China imposed a national security law on the semi-autonomous region in July.

Taiwan insists it is an independent state, free of China’s sovereignty claims. At least 15 countries recognize it as such and have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. But, China says Taiwan is a “breakaway province.”

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