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Envoy says U.S., Taiwan work on combating election disinformation

2023-12-05
Focus Taiwan
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AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk (left) answers questions after delivering a policy speech at NTU College of Law in Taipei, accompanied by the university's executive vice president, Ding Shih-torng on Monday. CNA photo Dec. 4, 2023
AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk (left) answers questions after delivering a policy speech at NTU College of Law in Taipei, accompanied by the university's executive vice president, Ding Shih-torng on Monday. CNA photo Dec. 4, 2023

Taipei, Dec. 4 (CNA) The de facto United States ambassador to Taiwan on Monday said the U.S. and Taiwan are on the frontline in combating the spread of disinformation and working closely to combat online information manipulation ahead of their respective 2024 presidential elections.

In an address made at Taiwan's top higher education institute, National Taiwan University (NTU), American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Sandra Oudkirk said Washington and Taipei, as open democratic societies, are "on the frontlines as we grapple with the spread of disinformation."

Such threats are especially worrisome in the context of democratic elections, she warned, noting upcoming presidential races in Taiwan and U.S.

"The United States, Taiwan, and many others have witnessed how intentional manipulation of information can undermine people's faith in the democratic process and in democracy itself," she said.

That is why Washington and Taipei, together with other democratic partners participated in the Global Declaration on International Information Integrity Online, she said.

The declaration, launched by Canada and Netherlands in September this year, has so far been joined by more than 30 countries worldwide and, according to the AIT director, "seeks to counter the erosion of accurate, trustworthy, and reliable information that people can access."

Oudkirk noted that as Taiwan is moving toward its Jan. 13, 2024 election, "there is no better time to have this discussion and to have reliable information than during election season."

Commenting on the presidential race, the envoy reiterated Washington's long-held stance that the U.S. does not have preferred candidates and will work with whoever wins the January election.

In her half-hour address, Oudkirk also said aside from the shared challenge of online misinformation, the U.S. and Taiwan also face similar cyber security issues, which is why both sides have been working closely and learning from each other to bolster cyber-critical infrastructure and societal resilience.

During a follow-up Q&A session following her speech, the envoy again reiterated the U.S.' stance on upholding its commitment to Taiwan's security based on the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) when asked by a student if Washington will be forced to abandon Taiwan when its interest with China takes precedence.

"I would say the answer to that is no," the AIT director said, adding that U.S. policy toward Taiwan has had bipartisan support from both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party for decades. The strong consensus is also shared between the Biden administration and U.S. Congress.

President Joe Biden is one of the congresspersons who voted for the TRA's passage in 1979, she noted, adding that "the policy has withstood a lot of change over many decades, and it can withstand more."

Meanwhile, when asked about being the first female AIT director in Taiwan and her advice to future women diplomats, Oudkirk said that when she first entered the foreign service back in the 1990s, she was one of only a handful of female American diplomats, and had the feeling of "being alone."

But over the years more and more women have taken up positions in the diplomatic corps, she noted.

Oudkirk said she really hopes that one day it will get to a point "where we are choosing the right person for a job, and we are not worrying about the person's gender or last name or what their mother tongue is at home."

"We are looking for the person who has the right skills for the job and who can get the job done," she added.

The director also praised Taiwan for doing a great job in promoting gender equality. "Obviously, the president of Taiwan is female," she noted.

The director made the remarks during the event co-hosted with NTU in delivering her End-of-Year policy speech.

AIT represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

Oudkirk took office as AIT Taipei director in July 2021, succeeding Brent Christensen.

The seasoned diplomat previously served as a consular officer at the AIT from 1992 to 1994 in her first overseas assignment as a diplomat.

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