World

China sends fighter jets as US health chief visits Taiwan

TAIPEI: Chinese jets briefly crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait yesterday and were tracked by Taiwanese missiles, Taiwan's government said, as the US health secretary visited the island to offer President Donald Trump's support.

Mr Alex Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, the highest-level US official to visit in four decades.

China, which claims the island as part of its territory, condemned the visit, which comes after a period of sharply deteriorating relations with the US.

China, which had promised unspecified retaliation to the trip, flew J-11 and J-10 fighter aircraft briefly onto Taiwan's side of the sensitive and narrow strait that separates it from its giant neighbour, around 9am, shortly before Mr Azar met President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's air force said.

The aircraft were tracked by land-based Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles and were "driven out" by patrolling Taiwanese aircraft, the air force said in a statement.

"It's a true honour to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan," Mr Azar told Dr Tsai.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favour of Beijing. Mr Azar is visiting to strengthen economic and public-health cooperation with Taiwan and support its international role in fighting the novel coronavirus.

"Taiwan's response to Covid-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwan's society and culture," he told Dr Tsai.

Taiwan's early and effective steps to fight the disease have kept its case numbers far lower than those of its neighbours, with 480 infections and seven deaths. Most cases have been imported.

Dr Tsai told Mr Azar his visit represented "a huge step forward in anti-pandemic collaborations between our countries", mentioning areas of cooperation including vaccine and drug research and production.

Taiwan is not a member of the World Health Organisation because of China's objections.

"I'd like to reiterate that political considerations should never take precedence over the rights to health. The decision to bar Taiwan from participating... is a violation of the universal rights to health," Dr Tsai said. - REUTERS

WORLD