Tsai Ing-wen, President of the Republic of China in-exile, has instructed her attorneys to prepare litigation against internet talk show host Dennis Peng. Tsai has given similar orders against two professors, Ho De-fen and Hwan Lin, for their remarks about her London School of Economics thesis.
The thesis, filed with the LSE Library for the first time in 2019, is the subject of much dispute. The thesis, entitled “Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions” was on the missing list for thirty-five years.
A statement from the ROC Presidential Office explained Tsai was forced to sue to protect her reputation which had been damaged by irresponsible criticism. Tsai, who is seeking reelection in January 2020, is considered the front-runner. However, announcement of an independent candidacy by Annette Lu changes the numbers considerably and pumps up the volume of any defamation lawsuit If Tsai was hoping to quiet rumors about her graduate degree she has made a tactical error.
As a plaintiff in a defamation case, Tsai is in the spotlight and on the spot. As a public figure, Tsai has a heavy burden to win her case and the defendants can be expected to wage vigorous defenses. The case will be protracted and likely not completed by election day thus making a political risk from the unfriendly exposure such a case could bring. Suddenly, Tsai’s student days will be the subject of intense scrutiny in the pre-trial discovery proceedings. There will be interrogatories and depositions along with compelled testimony. London School of Economics administrators may be called as witnesses. The Taiwanese news media might actually begin to follow the story.
Dennis Peng, who raised questions about the missing thesis before it was tardily submitted to the LSE Library by Tsai, will be a formidable opponent as defendant. Peng appears eager to go to court. With a controversial reputation, the sometimes confrontational newsman is a bulldog. Peng can be expected to follow the old sports rule that a good defense is a vigorous offense, Peng will be aggressive in challenging Tsai’s thesis story. Peng has already been looking at watermarks and measuring margins of LSE correspondence and will likely keep his daily audience updated.
In order to win, Tsai will have to prove a malicious intent to harm with untrue statements. Tsai will also have to submit to closer scrutiny then she has yet experienced. Since truth is a defense in defamation lawsuits Tsai will have to prove the defendants made untrue statements. Finally, as a political figure Tsai has to overcome the defendants’ freedom of speech rights as well. Tsai will have to jump over a very high hurdle to prevail, even assuming everything is legitimate with the thesis.
Want to look at the thesis online? No can do. Tsai has put a restrictive copyright binder on the thesis keeping it under tight wraps at the LSE Library. Live in London and want to peek at the object of controversy? Prepare for a full search for spy cameras or optical recording devices. However, Tsai will have a hard time keeping her thesis out of the courtroom, interested people may still get a chance to read the thesis as a court exhibit.
Tsai’s battle with Peng is sure to be entertaining and will likely have a large audience. If Tsai wants the thesis dispute to go away she should quit talking about it and stay out of court. In the end, the biggest opponent Tsai faces in the 2020 election may be herself.