Date
26 March 2017
Holding a bottle of water produced by Taiping Island, former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou said the island can produce three tons of good quality drinking water a day, enough for 1,500 people. Photo: Chinanews
Holding a bottle of water produced by Taiping Island, former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou said the island can produce three tons of good quality drinking water a day, enough for 1,500 people. Photo: Chinanews

The vulnerability of academics amid partisan conflict

A renowned international law academic in Taiwan has been caught in the line of political fire over the Hague tribunal’s ruling that Taiping Island is only a rock, not an island.

In April last year, Taipei Times ran an article written by Chiang Huang-chih, a professor with the law faculty of the National University of Taiwan, which raised doubts about the wisdom of the then Kuomintang government’s massive military build-up on Taiping Island.

The article doubted whether Taiping Island could actually fulfill its intended role as a supply station for the Taiwanese navy as, it pointed out, every drop of fresh water the island garrison will consume – let alone food, fuel and other supplies – has to be shipped from the main island of Taiwan.

Since the island can’t even sustain human habitation, the article said it would be a complete waste of resources for the Kuomintang government to continue to pour tens of billions of dollars into constructing a military infrastructure on it.

The article could probably have gone unnoticed forever, had it not been for the good eye for detail of the attorneys representing the government of the Philippines at the Hague tribunal, who found and cited the article as proof that Taiping Island is only a rock according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) because it doesn’t even have natural fresh water.

Eventually, the tribunal ruled against Taipei and declared “Taiping Island” a mere “rock”.

Almost immediately after the ruling was made, Chiang came under fire in Taiwan for betraying his country by providing supporting evidence for the Philippines that led to its victory in the case.

Former president of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou referred to the article as “a pack of lies”. Some Kuomintang heavyweights even called the professor a “traitor”, as, they said, he echoed the Philippine’s claim that Taiping Island is only a rock.

The truth, however, is that the article which the Taipei Times ran was in fact only a brief English translation of an article written in Chinese by Chiang himself in Taiwan Apple Daily last year.

And the article was so poorly translated by the editors of the Taipei Times that some of its major points were distorted.

For example, throughout the original Chinese version, Chiang never said that Taiping Island is just a “rock”.

To make things worse, these distorted points were further embellished by the attorneys representing the Philippines during the Hague trial, and the matter was further compounded by the media hype about the court rulings afterwards, hence the charges of “treason” against the professor.

In fact, Chiang was only an innocent victim of an ongoing political conflict between the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the Kuomintang over whether to continue with the military build-up on the island.

The incident once again illustrates how vulnerable academics can be amid partisan conflict.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 5

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

CG

Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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