White House accused of trying to avoid antagonising Beijing by replacing feed during map presentation
Last modified on Mon 13 Dec 2021 09.38 EST
The White House has been accused of cutting the video feed of a Taiwanese minister after a map in the official’s slide presentation showed the island in a different colour to China’s during last week’s Summit for Democracy, in an effort to avoid antagonising Beijing.
Reuters news agency reported that during a panel discussion on Friday, the video feed showing Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister, was replaced with audio only.
The map used in Tang’s presentation is produced by South African NGO Civicus, which ranks the world by openness on civil rights.
In it, Taiwan is labelled in green, making it the only regional entity described as “open”, while all the others, including several US allies and partners who were also participants in Joe Biden’s summit, were shown as being “closed”, “repressed”, “obstructed” or “narrowed”.
China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea were coloured red and labelled “closed”.
According to people familiar with Friday’s event who spoke to Reuters, the map led officials at the White House National Security Council to express concern. The NSC was also upset as the slide had not appeared in dry-run versions of the presentation before the summit, according to the report.
When the moderator for Tang’s session returned to Tang, there was no video of her. An on-screen disclaimer later clarified: “Any opinions expressed by individuals on this panel are those of the individual, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States government,” according to the report.
The alleged incident came at a highly sensitive time in Washington’s fraught relationship with Beijing, which sees Taiwan as its breakaway province. Last month, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, told Biden that any support for Taiwanese independence would be “like playing with fire” and that “those who play with fire will get burned”.
The way the administration handled the alleged incident also highlighted Biden’s balancing act in dealing with Taiwan. While helping the democratically run island expand its international space, Washington does not wish to be seen as breaking its decades-long policy of “strategic ambiguity” when dealing with Taiwan.
Critics say that this incident was the administration’s “overreaction”, and it cast doubt on Biden’s repeated commitment in public that his administration’s support for Taiwan was “rock solid”.
“[But] the bigger picture is that Taiwan is a crucial member of the US’s international democratic coalition at a time of stiff competition with China and Russia,” said George Yin, a research fellow at National Taiwan University’s Centre for China Studies.
“Nonetheless, the US also has a strong interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan strait given the troubles surrounding Ukraine.”
Tang’s map caused consternation among US officials, the report said, but the state department insisted the incident was “an honest mistake”. It said confusion over screen-sharing resulted in her video feed being dropped.
“We valued minister Tang’s participation, which showcased Taiwan’s world-class expertise on issues of transparent governance, human rights and countering disinformation,” a state department spokesperson said.
The NSC also disputed this account, saying the report was inaccurate and blamed it on confusion over screen-sharing.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry also blamed technical problems for the incident after it was revealed.
“Taiwan and the United States have fully communicated on this technical issue, and the two sides have a solid mutual trust and a solid and friendly relationship,” it said.