Taiwanese Digital Minister Audrey Tang’s video feed was cut during a presentation on Friday at President Joe Biden’s virtual Summit For Democracy after she showed a map displaying Taiwan as a different color than the Chinese mainland.
While the U.S State Department said Tang’s video feed had been cut due to “technical problems,” sources who spoke with Reuters said the visual presentation had dismayed U.S. officials and was cut at the behest of the Biden White House.
Tang joined a panel discussion with five other guest speakers. Each speaker was given time to share information on respective specific countries and topics.
Tang’s presentation showed a number of Asian countries, which were color-coded by their relative degree of civic freedom. The map Tang showed, based on data from the non-profit organization CIVICUS, showed China in red, as a country where civic freedom is “closed.” The map also showed Taiwan in green, as a country that is “open” to civic freedom. Between red and green, there were countries displayed in orange, where civic freedom is “repressed”; yellow, where civic freedom is “obstructed”; and a shade of yellow-green, where civic engagement is “narrowed.”
Tang was able to give the initial presentation, but after the panel host returned, Tang’s video feed was no longer running, and Tang continued on audio-only.
The State Department told Reuters that “confusion” over screen-sharing resulted in Tang’s video feed being dropped.
While the State Department called the issue an “honest mistake,” sources for Reuters said the decision to remove the video was a deliberate move by the White House.
One source told Reuters the map set off a flurry of emails among U.S. officials, and the White House National Security Council (NSC) contacted the State Department, concerned it appeared to show Taiwan as a distinct country.
The first source said the alleged decision to cut the feed was an over-reaction, as Tang’s presentation wasn’t inherently about national boundaries. That source said the NSC was upset because that slide hadn’t appeared in an earlier “dry-run” of Tang’s presentation.
A second source also told Reuters that a video booth operator acted on White House instructions during Tang’s presentation.
While Taiwan does consider itself an independent nation, China considers the island a part of its territory. The U.S. has taken a more ambiguous view of Taiwan. The U.S. adheres to the so-called One-China policy, which holds that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are one country and that the ruling People’s Republic of China is the official Chinese government. While adhering to the One-China policy, the U.S. still interacts regularly with Taiwan and contributes to the island’s defenses.
The Biden administration has tried, in recent weeks, to avoid the appearance of a full endorsement of Taiwan’s independence. When asked during an October town hall whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China attacks it, Biden said, “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.” Following those October comments, the White House said Biden’s comments were not meant to signal a change in policy from the current status quo between the U.S., China and Taiwan.
An NSC spokesman called Reuters’ reporting of the alleged calls to cut off Tang’s video feed “inaccurate.”
“At no time did the White House direct that Minister Tang’s video feed be cut,” the NSC spokesman said.
Tang also told Reuters, “I do not believe that this has anything to do with the CIVICUS map in my slides.”
After Tang’s panel concluded, an onscreen disclaimer was displayed, which stated: “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.” That disclaimer had not appeared after other panels earlier in the day.