A video feed of a Taiwanese minister was cut during US President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy last week, after a map in her slide presentation showed Taiwan in a different color to China.
Friday’s slide show by Minister Without Portfolio Audrey Tang (唐鳳) caused consternation among US officials after the map appeared in her video feed for about one minute, sources familiar with the matter said.
The sources, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the video feed showing Tang was cut during a panel discussion and replaced with audio only — at the behest of the White House.
Screen grab from a Summit for Democracy livestream
The White House was concerned that differentiating Taiwan and China on a map in a US-hosted conference — to which Taiwan had been invited in a show of support at a time when it is under intense pressure from Beijing — could be seen as being at odds with Washington’s “one China” policy, which avoids taking a position on whether Taiwan is part of China, the sources said.
The US Department of State said “confusion” over screen-sharing resulted in Tang’s video feed being dropped, calling it “an honest mistake.”
“We valued Minister Tang’s participation, which showcased Taiwan’s world-class expertise on issues of transparent governance, human rights and countering disinformation,” a spokesperson said.
Tang’s presentation included a color-coded map from South African non-governmental organization Civicus, ranking the world by openness on civil rights.
Most of Asia was shown, with Taiwan colored green, making it the only regional entity portrayed as “open,” while all the others, including several US allies and partners, were labeled as being “closed,” “repressed,” “obstructed” or “narrowed.”
China, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam were colored red and labeled “closed.”
When the moderator returned to Tang a few minutes later, there was no video of her, just audio, and a screenshot captioned: “Minister Audrey Tang Taiwan.”
An onscreen disclaimer later read: “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.”
The map generated an instant e-mail flurry among US officials and the US National Security Council (NSC) angrily contacted the state department, concerned it appeared to show Taiwan as a distinct country, one source said.
Washington complained to Taiwan’s government, which was angry that Tang’s video had been cut.
The source called the US move an overreaction as the map was not inherently about national boundaries, but the NSC was also angry as the slide had not appeared in “dry-run” versions of the presentation before the summit, raising questions as to whether there was intentional messaging by Tang and Taiwan.
“They choked,” the source said of the White House reaction.
A second source directly involved in the summit said the video booth operator acted on White House instructions.
“It was clearly policy concerns,” the source said. “This was completely an internal overreaction.”
The sources said they saw the move during a panel on “countering digital authoritarianism” as at odds with the summit’s mission of bolstering democracy in the face of challenges from China and others.
They also said it could signal that the administration’s support for Taiwan was not as “rock solid” as it has repeatedly stated.
Reuters’ account of the incident was “inaccurate,” an NSC spokesman said.
“At no time did the White House direct that Minister Tang’s video feed be cut,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail, also blaming it on confusion over screen-sharing, and adding that the full video could be viewed on the summit Web page.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that the US has blamed the incident on a “technical issue.”
Tang’s presentation had been provided in advance and was not shown at the last minute, the ministry said later.
“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.
Additional reporting by CNA
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