Significant discrepancies that could have been deliberate have been found in the official Chinese translation of an English-language protest letter that was delivered by Taiwan to the WHO on Monday.
The letter was addressed to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) after an internal memo from her office advised WHO staff to be aware that Taiwan is a “province of China” pursuant to an agreement with Beijing was leaked last week.
While the words “my country” appeared numerous times in the official Chinese translation released on Tuesday by the Department of Health, the phrase was entirely missing from the English-language version signed by Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達).
In the letter, Chiu says: “It is with the utmost dissatisfaction that I am writing to file a formal protest over the improper procedures and erroneous terminology ... laid out in the leaked memo of September 14, 2010.”
However, the official Chinese translation — apparently aimed at a Taiwanese audience — starts off by replacing “I” with “my country.”
“My country is writing this letter with the utmost dissatisfaction ... [to] express formal protest,” it says.
Later on, the English version makes mention of the “Department of Health of Chinese Taipei,” which in the official translation becomes “our country’s Department of Health.” The phrase “my delegation” became “my country’s delegation” in the translation.
While the usage of Taiwan in the English version was a reference to geographical location instead of a political designation: “Taiwan as well as its adjacent islands and waters,” the official translation only makes mention of “Taiwanese territory.”
The arbitrary changes to the translation by government agencies caught the attention of legislators, especially because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The omission of every instance of the word “country” in the version of the letter submitted to the WHO, consistent with guidelines that recognize Taiwan only as a province of China, drew accusations that the wording was calculated and deliberate.
“The protest letter is a show, a ploy to get votes and a lie to Taiwanese. There was no real force in the protest as shown by the differences in the Chinese and English versions of the letter,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) said.
Other DPP lawmakers said that government agencies knew full well that the letter failed to stand up for Taiwan’s interests and that they had tweaked the Chinese-language version made available to the public on the Web to make it look as though the letter had addressed the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty.
The allegations were rejected by Department of Health spokesperson Wang Che-chao (王哲超).
The letter had been translated into Chinese by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and it had received the approval of Taiwan’s delegation to the WHA and the department, he said. Phrases such as “my country” were more common Chinese expressions, he said.
“There was no special consideration. We supplied both versions of the letter online — people are free to make their own interpretation,” Wang said. “MOFA perhaps felt that the language used in the Chinese translation would be better understood by [the public].”
Separately yesterday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) said Taiwan had made a successful protest because the letter had been accepted by the WHO.