The London School of Economics and Political Science Library has confirmed that Tsai Ing-wen’s 1984 doctoral thesis was not submitted as required by academic protocol. Tsai, who is now the President of the Republic of China in-exile and living on Taiwan, attended LSE in London in the 1980’s when she authored her doctoral dissertation entitled “Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions.” The only problem is that Tsai’s thesis upon which her doctorate degree is based is not to be found.
Ruth Orson of the library’s research services office answered questions about Tsai’s missing dissertation: “Dr. Tsai’s thesis is unavailable I’m afraid. LSE Library has never had a copy of this thesis.”
“All Ph.D.s from that period were awarded under the University of London banner and would have been sent first to Senate House Library, and this being under Law would also have gone to the IALS.”
“Unfortunately Senate House apparently never received a copy and the IALS are unable to find their copy. We had to make extensive searches when Dr. Tsai stood for election and I am sorry to disappoint.”
The Institute for Advanced Legal Studies maintains the United Kingdom’s top law library and is a national repository of doctoral thesis dissertations. A search of the IALS database failed to locate Tsai’s missing thesis.
Tsai Ing-wen had not released her thesis nor does she comment on the matter. Tsai’s views on unfair trade practices is a topic of interest to many in the business community yet her scholarship on the topic has escaped public scrutiny. While expertise on international trade is not a bad quality in a leader it is not essential to run a government as different skill sets are needed. However, good leadership does require integrity. Thus Tsai’s missing thesis has implications important to her qualification for office. Was the thesis plagiarized? Does the thesis competently explore the topic of unfair trade? Why was the thesis kept from the public?
The questions emerged in early June 2019 on Facebook when academic researcher Cao Chang-qing suggested the thesis does not exist. Cao said the missing thesis was unsettling, but the fact it had not been resubmitted by Tsai was even more baffling.
Talk show host Dennis Peng picked up the inquiry. Peng commented that Tsai’s missing thesis was the most bizarre thing he had encountered in his twenty-five year academic career.
Fear that a scandal would sour Tsai’s chances of reelection and return the Kuomintang to power have kept the lid on the story of the phantom thesis. Democratic Progressive Party loyalists have gone silent on the controversy and Tsai Ing-wen has nothing yet to say on the matter.
Taiwan, caught in political purgatory and a longstanding strategic ambiguity, continues to be a land where anything is possible and nothing is certain. Answers about Tsai’s thesis are not to be had leaving lingering questions that will not quietly go away.
The controversy over Tsai’s thesis only expanded after she turned in a faxed copy of the document. Tsai then escalated the matter by bringing a lawsuit against two professors for remarks made about the thesis. Hwan Lin, another professor facing a lawsuit has released his report on Tsai’s thesis in English.
The London School of Economics has failed to reveal the identity of the thesis examiners who reviewed Tsai’s thesis, directing inquiries to the University of London. The university has refused to release the names citing the Privacy Act. An appeal to the United Kingdom Information Commissioner resuilted in a decision the names of thesis examiners are the private business of Tsai. The matter is now pending in a court appeal to the Information Review Tribunal which has issued a preliminary ruling allowing the case to go forward. Final submissions are due June 22, 2021.
This article has been updated to reflect the role of the University of London in the thesis story and pending litigation.