Solomons research to continue: MOST

SEISMIC MONITORING::A DPP lawmaker asked the ministry to reassess its participation, but the ministry said the project is part of a network involving the US and New Zealand

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Sep 26, 2019 - Page 3

Taiwanese researchers would continue working on an earthquake observation project in the Solomon Islands even though the government has cut ties with that nation, since the project is part of an international program involving Taiwan, the US and New Zealand, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said yesterday.

After Honiara on Monday last week announced it would switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) declared an immediate termination of all bilateral collaborations and recalled Taiwan’s embassy, technicians and medical personnel.

However, the following day MOST issued a statement saying that said the earthquake observation project would not be affected.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Kuo-shu (黃國書) yesterday voiced concern about the project, asking Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) to reassess the ministry’s funding of the project.

If any foreign collaborator of a project might damage national interests, the project should be terminated immediately, as stipulated in the International Cooperation and Development Act (國際合作發展法), Huang said.

He also questioned if Taiwan’s research results might be “harvested” by China and if Taiwanese would be able to retrieve their devices.

The project in question is different from bilateral collaborations overseen by the foreign ministry, given it is an international program studying regional earthquakes, Chen said, adding that he would coordinate with the foreign ministry on the issue.

There are no scientific projects underway in Kiribati, which also cut its ties with Taiwan last week.

The Solomon Islands’ project is part of a wider earthquake observation network stretching across the southern Pacific, involving Taiwanese, US and New Zealand personnel, said project host Chen Yue-gau (陳于高), a geosciences professor at National Taiwan University and a distinguished fellow of Academia Sinica’s Research Center for Environmental Changes.

International collaboration is necessary as Pacific nations often comprise many islets across long distances, he said.

His team installed six to seven seismographs across the Solomon Islands in addition to those installed by New Zealand and the US in the region, he said.

His team visits the Solomon Islands about once every six months to maintain the devices, although transportation around the Pacific island nation is challenging, he said.

Some Solomon Islands researchers have observed their on-site operations as part of their nation’s effort to improving disaster monitoring, but they are not involved in the project, he said.

Taiwan’s scientific achievements are a soft power and help gain more regional and global support, the professor said, hoping that more attention is paid to the hard work of researchers.

MOST has budgeted NT$1.67 million (US$53,812) for this year and next year for the project, which is a purely academic collaboration not governed by the International Cooperation and Development Act, MOST said in a statement later in the day.

Seismic data collected in the Solomon Islands as part of the project belong entirely to Taiwan, and has helped improve Taiwan’s own earthquake prevention efforts, it added.

The foreign ministry understands the project is an international commitment to a group of scientists and not directly related to the Solomon Islands government or Taipei-Honiara relations, MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said separately.

It is positive about the MOST’s decision to maintain the collaboration, she added.