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July 22, 2017

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Taiwan center in US denies charges of censoring speech

WASHINGTON D.C. -- A unit of Taiwan's representative office in the United States has dismissed accusations that it was trying to prevent a key figure in a student-led movement from speaking in the U.S. at its facility.

Huang Kuo-chang, a researcher at Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institution, applied to give a speech at the Culture Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, D.C. on the "predicament and prospects facing Taiwan's democracy" on Aug. 23.

After receiving the application, the center consulted the opinion of 63 Taiwanese expatriates on whether the application should be accepted, sparking accusations by Huang that the center was engaged in a form of ideological censorship.

"Has Taiwan's representative office in the U.S. subjected speakers to an ideological review in its past decisions to allow them to speak," Huang asked.

The center responded that it consulted overseas Taiwanese about Huang's application because the organizations sponsoring his visit sent out invitations for the speech before approval was received.

It said it was trying to be impartial in its decision and accused the applicant of coercing it into approving the request by sending out invitations first.

Huang was one of the leaders of the student movement that occupied Taiwan's Legislature in mid-March to protest a trade-in-services agreement Taiwan signed with China in June 2013.

The pact, one of President Ma Ying-jeou's main initiatives to liberalize Taiwan's economy, has yet to be ratified by the Legislative Yuan, and the occupation has led to measures that will only delay further consideration of the agreement.

Critics argue that the pact would give China greater control of Taiwan's economy and hurt the job prospects of Taiwanese employed in the service sector.

The Taiwanese American Senior Society (TASS), one of the organizations that filed the application on Huang's behalf, said it arranges an event at the venue every month and was not trying to pressure the center into approving Huang's appearance.

It said it simply wanted a formal written reply on whether the speech could take place or not.

Overseas Taiwanese in the U.S. capital are divided on the issue, with some worrying about possible protests against Huang's speech and "chaos" at the center.

Others suggested the center should approve Huang's application, saying Huang is not a political figure and that his speech was for academic purposes.

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