The United States said Friday it has agreed to work with Australia, Denmark and Norway to establish a "code of conduct" for applying export control tools to prevent technologies from being misused by authoritarian governments.
The launch of the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative, for which Britain and France have also expressed support, was announced during a two-day virtual summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden to advance democracy in the face of challenges posed by what he views as autocratic countries such as China.
According to the White House, the initiative aims to establish guidance for the application of human rights criteria to export licensing and build policy alignment with like-minded partners toward "common action."
The move comes amid growing concerns that authoritarian governments are using surveillance tools and other technologies in ways resulting in serious human rights abuses, such as by censoring political opposition, tracking dissidents, intimidating minority communities and undermining free expression.
Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island facing increasing military and diplomatic pressure from China, was among the summit participants that called for investing in public digital infrastructure to advance democratic values.
"Although Taiwan is a young democracy, it is standing firm on the front lines of the global struggle with authoritarianism," digital minister Audrey Tang said in a recorded speech on the second day of the event.
Tang, who represented the island at the event along with Taiwan's top envoy to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim, warned of "signs of democracy backsliding" amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying that authoritarian regimes justify human rights violations in the name of public health and the greater good.
Taiwan, for its part, was able to ride out the pandemic with "no lockdowns" and cope with the "infodemic" of online misinformation "with no takedowns," the minister said in a panel discussion that took place later in the day, touching on how social medial platforms helped offer early warnings to the people of Taiwan in the initial stage of the epidemic.
Effective anti-virus measures, including a mask distribution system and a contact tracing system, began as "civic technologies from the social sector" and were "amplified by government and businesses working hand in hand," Tang said.
"This people-public-private partnership is a model we're proud to share," the minister added.
China has expressed objections to the participation of Taiwan in Biden's "Summit for Democracy" event. Beijing, labeled an autocracy by the Biden administration, was not among the list of invitees.
China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 amid a civil war. Beijing has since endeavored to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland by force if necessary.
Including Taiwan as a participant in the summit, which brought together dozens of leaders from around the world, can be seen as the latest sign of U.S. support for the island amid increasing tension between Washington and Beijing on military, economic, technological and human rights issues, among others.
The event was the first of what would be a two-step process, with Biden planning to host another "Summit for Democracy" in an in-person format about a year later so the participating countries can report on the progress made toward their commitments.
The White House said the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative will shape up during the "coming year of action."
The initiative was also supported by Canada and the Netherlands, according to the White House.