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‘Those who play with fire will get burnt:’ China warns US against Taiwan ties

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar (L) speaks as Taiwan’s deputy premier Shen Jong-chin (R) listens during a visit to a mask factory in the Wugu district in Taipei, Taiwan, on August 12, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

China has warned the United States against any official ties with Taiwan, as a high-level US official visits the self-ruled island.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a daily news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that, “Those who play with fire will get burnt.”

The comment came amid US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar’s trip to Taiwan, the highest-level visit by a US official to the self-ruled island since 1979, when the region returned from British to Chinese rule and the United States recognized Chinese sovereignty over the island.

The senior US official arrived in Taipei for a three-day visit on Sunday. The visit was billed as an attempt to acquire Taiwan’s experiences in containing its coronavirus epidemic. But it has been widely seen as an attempt to unnerve Beijing.

Meanwhile, Azar on Tuesday criticized China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, repeating allegations made by US President Donald Trump.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said.

He further accused China of not living up to its international obligations when the virus emerged.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily, rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public,” he said.

The United States ranks the worst among all world countries in terms of how it has managed its coronavirus outbreak. It has officially registered the highest overall caseload and death tally by far, and rose to that status in a matter of weeks since its first case was detected. For weeks on end, the country would register thousands of new infections and deaths every day. The Trump administration’s response to the pandemic has been widely blamed for the country’s bleak situation. Until recently, Trump himself refused to wear a mask and encouraged his supporters to gather at events en masse.

At the same time, the US president has since been attacking China’s response to its own outbreak, blaming the current status of the pandemic in the US and the world on Beijing.

China has fiercely defended its handling of the new coronavirus, stressing that it informed the World Health Organization (WHO) and affected countries about the pandemic in time.

China has pursued Taiwan’s reunification ever since the island broke away from the mainland during a civil war in 1949. China claims full sovereignty over the island under the globally-recognized “One China” policy and almost all world countries, including the US, recognize that sovereignty.

The US, however, has long courted Taipei in an attempt to counter Beijing, selling it advanced military hardware, among other forms of cooperation.

China firmly opposes any official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan.

Relations between the United States and China have hit the lowest level in decades under Trump. The two countries are at loggerheads over a range of issues, including trade, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the coronavirus pandemic.

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