Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby on Wednesday morning. Busby is another senior US official visiting the island since the Taiwan Travel Act became law in March 2018. Photo: Handout

Intelligence officials and diplomats from the United States were among a group of overseas guests and speakers at a global workshop on disinformation that started in Taipei on Tuesday.

The US delegation was led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby, in a visit that further gives substance to the Taiwan Travel Act signed into law by Donald Trump in March 2018.

At the forum, Busby highlighted Taiwan’s role in protecting human rights and freedoms throughout the Indo-Pacific region, including in Hong Kong.

“Taiwan’s 2020 elections are only a few months away, and China once again seeks to use disinformation to undermine the vote, divide the people and sow seeds of doubt in democratic systems” through numerous channels, he said.

Busby is in charge of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the US State Department.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said when meeting Busby that tactics used to spread disinformation continued to evolve in recent years and that Taiwan needed to further strengthen citizens’ ability to identify disinformation.

The American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen, Washington’s de-facto ambassador to the self-governed island, also noted at the forum that Taiwan was always on the frontline of the battle against disinformation.

The US and other nations have much to learn from Taiwan about how to marshal academic, policy and technical resources to confront that kind of external pressure, said Christensen, highlighting the need to help citizens become “discerning consumers” of media reports.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that dealing with false information and fake news would become more important than ever, now that presidential candidates would soon embark on their stumping tours and Taiwanese would soon be heading for polling stations.

The two-day workshop, themed defending democracy through promoting media literacy, is being held for the second year under the Taiwan-US Global Cooperation Training Framework implemented by the AIT, against a backdrop of what Taiwanese authorities called “rampant disinformation spreading in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections in January.”

Japanese and Swedish representatives also joined this year’s discussion.

Taiwanese papers reported that some US experts had started advising, through the AIT, relevant government departments and agencies on how to tackle misinformation from China and identify suspicious accounts on social media that could be backed by China’s propaganda organs.

Taiwan has asked Facebook and Twitter to suspend or close a number of accounts spreading malicious news and rumors about the island.

Last month, Facebook and Twitter reportedly closed about 200,000 accounts with ties with Beijing that were responsible for a barrage of misleading reports and information about Hong Kong’s ongoing protests.

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