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Regional responses to cables reveal more than the leaks

IT is always the cover-ups, the back-pedalling, and the denials that prove far more fascinating than the actual revelations.

That is now aptly demonstrated by the responses to WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website, which has started releasing 251,287 classified cables from the United States Department of State.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, for instance, has tried to claim black is white by refuting clear statements in the cables that Washington pressured him to extradite an alleged Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, to the United States.

His spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, has gone even further by saying that Bangkok will deny the authenticity of the WikiLeaks documents – something not even Washington has done.

The panicky dissembling is odd, since no one doubts for a second that pressure was exerted. After all, it is the US ambassador’s job to do just that.

An equally ridiculous and ultimately pointless denial was attempted by Malaysia’s Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein over the WikiLeaks disclosure that Malaysian firms helped Iran obtain defence material.

This is hardly a new story since similar allegations were reported in 2004 when the Malaysian Scomi Group was revealed to have provided Iran with material for enriching uranium.

And last year, an American-based Iranian was charged with using Malaysian front companies to buy advanced components for fighter bombers and illegally exporting them to Tehran.

Yet when WikiLeaks confirmed all this, Hishammuddin backpedalled by saying it was a new issue and that he needed briefing by the police and intelligence agencies before he could say or do anything.

Nice try, my dear Hisham, but it won’t wash for long. WikiLeaks has 994 missives sent by the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and you won’t be able to backpedal over all of them.

Then we have Singapore. Oh, how sweet it is to see them squirm over the disclosure that former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew called the North Koreans “psychopathic types” and their leader Kim Jong Il a “flabby old chap who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not amused and the state-owned Straits Times said the claim by WikiLeaks to be defending freedom of speech was “pompous, self-serving rubbish”.

Wow. Surely what Lee said is what everyone except the flabby old geezer himself thinks? Perhaps the outrage is because, as one website reported, if someone were to call Lee a flabby old chap they would be sued for defamation.

The most piquant quote was when Lee said: “Within hours, everything that is discussed in ASEAN meetings is known in Beijing, given China’s close ties with Laos, Cambodia, and Burma.”

No one seemed concerned by the obvious correlation, namely that everything said in those meetings will also be known in Washington, given America’s close ties with Singapore, Thailand and Brunei.

Well, more delicious material from this region will be revealed soon.

To start with, there are 3,059 cables from the US Embassy in Jakarta, plus large quantities from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

What lovely reading is in store for us thanks to Julian Assange and his Wikileaks team. And despite official bleating, most plain folks are rightly supportive of the leaks.

As Assange told TIME magazine last week: “The response by the American public has been very favourable to our endeavour.”

Indeed, users of the magazine’s website have catapulted Assange to the forefront of the informal voting for Person of the Year.

It all restores faith in the pro-sunshine philosophy best espoused by the former Washington Post managing editor, Ben Bradlee, who oversaw the publication of the Watergate reports despite enduring the same kind of frightening threats Assange now faces.

“I am instinctively pro-sunshine, against closed doors, pro let-it-all-hang-out, anti smoke-filled rooms. I believe that truth sets man free. I hate to yield even an inch of this high ground” said Bradlee
Right on, Ben. Right on, Julian. Long may Wikileaks let it all hang out.



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