WikiLeaks can be an entertaining website, what with all the revelations over what US diplomats are saying about the leaders of the countries where they’re stationed. And the gossip-like reports tend to be credible because the sources are typically top local government officials. Or at least this is the case with Singapore.
If we’re to believe the leaked secret cables on WikiLeaks, it seems Singaporean officials don’t think highly of their counterparts in the Asia-Pacific region. Otherwise, why would they describe the leaders of their neighbours as opportunists, sodomists, and corrupt?
First, there’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who allegedly described North Koreans as ‘psychopathic types’ ruled by a ‘flabby old chap who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.’
Then, it was reported last Sunday that Ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Permanent Secretary Peter Ho told a US official in March 2008 that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is an opportunist. Another MFA permanent secretary, Bilahari Kausikan, reportedly told US Deputy Secretary of Defence for South-east Asia David Sedney the same year that ousted Thailand leader Thaksin Shinawatra is ‘corrupt’, along with ‘everyone else, including the opposition.’
Singaporean intelligence officials also allegedly told the Australian government that Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is indeed guilty of sodomy in the case that he has been charged in. They apparently reached this conclusion based on intercepted ‘technical intelligence’ from Malaysia.
Another senior diplomat, Tommy Koh, described Japan as ‘the big fat loser’ as China’s relationship with ASEAN continues to improve. He blamed Japan’s ‘stupidity, bad leadership, and lack of vision.’ As if that wasn’t insulting enough, he called India ‘stupid’ for being ‘half-in, half-out’ of ASEAN.
Will Singapore still have any friends once WikiLeaks is done exposing everything that its officials are saying to the Americans about the ‘inconvenient truths’ of its neighbours?
Singapore leaders are for their part unfazed over the revelations, dismissing some of the remarks recounted as mere ‘cocktail talk.’ Aside from asserting that it enjoys good relations with the ‘insulted’ countries mentioned, the Singaporean government reminded the public that the embarrassing words attributed to its senior diplomats were taken out of context.
This may be true, and it’s wise to remember that the reports aren’t always based on solid facts. But whether or not the information it provides is reliable, WikiLeaks has given us a clear idea about the topics usually discussed by grumpy old diplomats during cocktail parties in government palaces. In particular, it seems the views of Singaporean politicians are the most solicited, and perhaps even most trusted, of the United States when it’s seeking insight into matters concerning the Asia-Pacific.
But, thanks to WikiLeaks, Singaporean diplomats are now working overtime to reaffirm ties with offended neighbours and appease the bruised egos of politicians in the region. Just this week, the Malaysian government summoned the Singaporean ambassador to explain the unflattering remarks.
Many Malaysian citizens might shrug at the ‘opportunist’ tag given their prime minister as many feel it’s not without some grounds. But they may be worried about the reported intercepted ‘technical intelligence’ used by the Singaporean government to conclude that Anwar is guilty as charged. They are right to demand that this matter be investigated further to establish how Singapore accessed the ‘intelligence.’
WikiLeaks may be guilty of assisting in the spread of unfounded rumours and scathing comments, but it remains a key website for promoting transparency in governance. In the case of Singapore and nearby countries, WikiLeaks is pushing governments and the public to start a conversation on accountability, open access to information, and even national security.