Taiwan said on Tuesday that it sent coronavirus assistance to foreign countries surreptitiously to avoid China’s wrath, AP reported. China claims Taiwan to be part of its territory, while the Taiwanese government regards itself as an independent country.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the island has kept its donations of masks and personal protective equipment “under the radar” due to Chinese attempts to isolate it. “Truth is, we even had to deliver these supplies quietly in some occasions to keep the recipients free from trouble, trouble from Beijing,” Wu said.

Wu said Taiwan has donated 5.1 crore masks overseas, including one crore to the United States, along with other personal protective equipment. He did not identify any other countries.

The United States broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, after recognising the government of the People’s Republic of China as legitimate. However, the US is still Taiwan’s biggest provider of arms and ammunition. At present, only 15 countries have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and China is trying to reduce these.

Wu said on Tuesday that Chinese pressure to accept political conditions for bringing Taiwan under Beijing’s control “has made life increasingly difficult”. “However, acquiescence would merely turn Taiwan into another Hong Kong,” Wu added, referring to recent arrests in the semi-autonomous region in pursuance of a new law that criminalises some forms of dissent. “We know this is not just about Taiwan’s status, but about sustaining democracy in the face of authoritarian aggression.”

Azar began his Taiwan visit on Monday, when China deployed fighter jets that briefly crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait into the country. The Taiwanese air force said its missiles tracked the fighter jets and “drove them out”. China, which had promised unspecified retaliation to the trip, condemned Azar’s visit.

Azar met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen on Monday. This was the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official to Taiwan since 1979.

United States President Donald Trump has repeatedly clashed with China over the pandemic, accusing Beijing of responsibility for it. He has called Covid-19 the “China virus” and claimed that Beijing’s “secrecy, deceptions” led to the contagion spreading all over the world.