BEIJING • China yesterday said US Health Secretary Alex Azar has performed the “worst in the world” in controlling the coronavirus, rejecting criticism of Beijing made by Mr Azar during a three-day visit to Taiwan this week.
Mr Azar on Tuesday attacked China’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that if such an outbreak had emerged in Taiwan or the United States, it could have been “snuffed out easily”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing in Beijing that the epidemic in the US was “out of control” and the blame lay with Mr Azar. “He ignored millions of Americans suffering from the virus and went to Taiwan to put on a political show,” Mr Zhao said.
“His behaviour proves once again that in the eyes of US politicians, American lives mean nothing when compared with their selfish political gains,” he added.
Mr Azar was the highest-level US official to visit Taiwan in four decades and it came after a sharp deterioration of relations between the US and China over a range of issues including trade, Hong Kong and the coronavirus.
The Trump administration has repeatedly criticised China for trying to cover up the outbreak, first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and prevaricating on information sharing.
China denies the accusations.
The US has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world – 5.3 million cases and 167,761 deaths as of yesterday – and President Donald Trump has come under scathing attack from critics at home for not taking what he calls the “China virus” seriously enough.
China has reported 84,737 confirmed cases with 4,634 deaths.
Taiwan has been praised by health experts for its early and effective steps to control the outbreak, with only 480 infections and seven deaths.
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has vowed to bring it under its rule, by force if necessary.
Mr Zhao said yesterday at the briefing that China opposed any official US ties with Taiwan under any pretext, adding that those who play with fire will get burnt.
Beijing had earlier called for Mr Azar’s trip to be cancelled and Taiwan accused China of sending fighter jets over a defacto border on Monday, the day Mr Azar met President Tsai Ing-wen.
Yesterday, Mr Azar visited a memorial to Taiwan’s late president Lee Teng-hui, praising his role in steering the island’s transition to democracy.
Both Washington and Taipei had portrayed Mr Azar’s trip as an opportunity to learn from the success of Taiwan’s battle against Covid-19.
But the visit has also been an opportunity to ruffle Beijing’s feathers at a time when Mr Trump is taking an increasingly hard line against China as he seeks re-election in November.
“We will continue to support Taiwan as our friend and our partner across security, economic and healthcare issues,” Mr Azar told reporters after a visit to a mask factory yesterday, shortly before flying back to the US.
On Tuesday, he also hit out at Beijing for keeping Taiwan locked out of the World Health Organisation.