Opening Remarks by Assistant Secretary Robert A. Destro
at the Virtual Global Cooperation and Training Framework Workshop
on Countering COVID-19 Disinformation
April 29, 2020
(as prepared for delivery)
Minister Tang, Deputy Minister Hsu, Representative Izumi, and distinguished guests, “NEE-how!” I would also like to recognize the Global Engagement Center Principal Deputy Coordinator Daniel Kimmage and AIT Director Brent Christensen.
I am speaking to you from my home in Arlington, Virginia. On behalf of the U.S. Government and the Department of State, I am honored to open the virtual Global Cooperation and Training Framework workshop on countering COVID-19 disinformation. I only wish I could be in Taipei with my Taiwan friends to congratulate you in person for the spectacular work you are doing fighting COVID-19 and the disinformation swirling around its spread.
It is no secret that Taiwan is leading the Indo-Pacific region in its handling of COVID-19. You are serving as an inspiration for the world, and we are grateful for your leadership. All of us are learning from the Taiwan Model – a fact that underscores that democracies have the clear upper hand over authoritarian regimes when it comes to fighting this virus.
The lessons from Taiwan’s success in keeping COVID-19 transmissions and deaths to a minimum are clear. We have learned that transparency matters. We have learned that access to accurate information matters. We have learned that government accountability matters. We have learned that the truth matters. And, most importantly, we have learned that access to the truth makes it possible for us to defend ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Not surprisingly, these truths about human nature contrast deeply with the approach taken by the People’s Republic of China and other authoritarian governments in responding to COVID-19. While the PRC restricted the flow of news and information, silencing those who attempted to share life-saving data and facts, and resorting to outright lies and ongoing coverups, Taiwan was holding daily press conferences to give its people the most up-to-date information on the virus. I understand your health minister, Shih-Chung Chen, has become something of a rock star in Taiwan for those bravura performances that demonstrated true government accountability. Good for him! We are grateful for his leadership.
The contrast with the PRC’s actions could not be more profound. PRC officials have been actively engaged in a disinformation campaign designed to sow confusion about the origins and impact of COVID-19 in China. We in the United States have been the target of some of this disinformation. Taiwan too has been a target, and I have no doubt that those attacks have felt all too familiar given the PRC’s long history of disinformation campaigns, especially during your elections.
Over the years, Taiwan has developed an impressive array of methods to combat disinformation coming from across the Taiwan Strait. It has deployed a variety of rapid-response mechanisms, ranging from fact-checking to effective crisis communications, as Health Minister Chen has done so ably. Perhaps most importantly, Taiwan has a longstanding and very successful record of helping its own people to recognize and fight back against disinformation. This includes robust media literacy which I know you now incorporate into your public-school curriculum. I am impressed with how you fought PRC disinformation while holding successful elections earlier this year. Later this morning we will learn just how this toolkit can be deployed effectively, not only here in Taiwan but around the world.
If the rest of the world would follow the Taiwan Model — including the transparency and timely communications needed to fight disinformation — all of us would be better positioned in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which is by no means over, and to work together to repair the damage to our communities and businesses.
I would like to close by thanking the Taiwan government and the American Institute in Taiwan for putting this critically important workshop together. By exchanging ideas and working together, we can demonstrate to the world what we have always known and practiced: that transparency and democracy are key to creating lasting solutions that will ensure we are properly prepared to face the next global health crisis. And I look forward to working further with Taiwan through our U.S.—Taiwan Consultations on Democratic Governance in the Indo-Pacific Region. Through these consultations we can together show the world the significant benefits of an inclusive and accountable approach to governance.
Thank you! Have a great day! Next time, I hope to see you in Taiwan!