China is pressuring Taiwan to accept conditions that would turn it into the next Hong Kong, the island nation's top diplomat told U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar. The US official arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades. Azar's visit was condemned by China.

On Monday, Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and were tracked by Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles. Taiwan, which says it is being increasingly threatened by China, adds that these actions constitute harassment by Beijing.

Alex Azar's visit to Taiwan
US Secretary of Health Alex Azar in a meeting with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing Wen Twitter/ Tsai Ing-wen

Azar's visit comes at a time when China is overseeing a stricter crackdown against pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. On Monday, police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai under a tough new national security law.

]Life has Become Increasingly Difficult'

"Our life has become increasingly difficult as China continues to pressure Taiwan into accepting its political conditions, conditions that will turn Taiwan into the next Hong Kong," Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said at a joint media appearance with Azar in Taipei, Reuters reported.

China has proposed a "one country, two systems" model of autonomy to get Taiwan to accept its rule, much as it uses in Hong Kong. The proposal has been rejected in Taiwan by all major parties and the government.

Wu said Taiwan was lucky to have friends like Azar in the United States to help fight for Taiwan's international space.

US Support for Taiwan

Boycott China protests at Times Square
Indian-Americans, Tibetans and Taiwanese-Americans protesting against China at Times Square, New York. Twitter

"We know this is not just about Taiwan's status, but about sustaining democracy in the face of authoritarian aggression. Taiwan must win these battles so democracy prevails."

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favour of Beijing but is still Taiwan's biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority as relations with China sour over issues including human rights and trade.

Azar is in Taiwan to offer not just the administration's support for its democracy, but to learn about its successful fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Taiwan has kept its infection numbers low thanks to early and effective prevention efforts.

(With inputs from Reuters)