The Constructive Cambodian
Lift's senior writers comment on key issues in the Kingdom
While the WikiLeaks’ cables caused shockwaves, frustration and embarrassment to diplomats around the world, many thought there would be little concern for countries like Cambodia, but that has turned out to be wrong. At least 800 documents sent from the United States embassy in Phnom Penh are set to be released on the internet for public consumption in the coming weeks.
More than 20 days after the ongoing release of the cables started on wikileaks.ch, which have been written about by all the major international news outlets, one of the most critical from a local perspective came from former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who said Cambodia’s political system was too “personalised” around Prime Minister Hun Sen, while he also described the Vietnamese as “bright, fast learners”.
Cambodia’s government spokesperson – as reported in the Post – has not made any critical comments in response to the comments by Lee, who is now Singapore’s minister mentor.
Early this month United States ambassador to Cambodia Carol Rodley met with her Cambodian counterpart Khieu Kanharith, the Information Minister and government spokesman, to guarantee that Cambodia-US relations were still on track as the 60th anniversary of relations between the two countries was celebrated with visits by high profile American diplomats, including former ambassadors and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
“When you are not confident with your counterpart there won’t be any progress in discussions. When you say releasing ‘confidential communications’ to be released online, then this is not a ‘confidential’ communication any more,” Khieu Kanharith wrote in an email.
It remains to be seen, though, whether the spill of leaked information on American diplomats’ views on Cambodia’s senior political leaders will cause tension or improve relations or even shed light on the businesses behind the scenes of Cambodia’s foreign affairs. While none of the documents from Cambodia that have been published on the internet have been critically analysed by journalists and commentators, the Kingdom has been mentioned several times by foreign leaders ever since WikiLeaks, arguably the most controversial whistle-blower website in the information age, pledged to publish more than 250,000 documents from 274 US embassies worldwide.
Puy Kea, a veteran Cambodian journalist, said via email: “Whatever the documents are that have been leaked, they are not harmful to the security and stability of one particular country, but instead they help the public learn what is going on in this world. The public [ordinary people] share their roles and responsibilities for the future of their own nations.”
The author of books on Cambodian history also said that “the leaking of the documents, if proven useful, will help the whole world learn specific decisions from leaders or decision makers on sensitive issues such as how serious they are in positions to seek peace, stability or how to improve the economics of his/her country or in the region”.
Australia’s former ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin, who served from 1994-97, wrote that “sometimes, people in high places leak confidential embassy reporting when it suits them politically to do so”. The diplomat with 30 years experience in public service had his cable on Australia’s stance during Cambodia’s 1997 faction situation leaked to the media, but former prime minister and current Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called the leak “harmless”.
“Releasing the secret information without knowing the extent of its power is like opening Pandora’s Box”, wrote the Cambodian government spokesperson.
According to a posting last February, WikiLeaks told its supporters that “our Kenyan PO BOX is no longer considered secure after a break in. Please use Australia or Cambodia instead.” When asked whether the Cambodian government would take any action to stop the organisation from receiving donations, the information minister wrote an email which said: “Until now we have no plan to cut any donation to WikiLeaks. This isn’t a terrorist organisation. But we advised the internet users in Cambodia to be cautious because there might be some fraudulent attempts to use the name of WikiLeaks to pocket the money.”
A media lecturer at the RUPP said: “It is impossible to claim what universal impacts the cables distributed by WikiLeaks can have. It depends totally on the content of the cables. What we can see up to now seems to range from embarrassment to outrage, from amusement to possible danger.”
Q: Do the WikiLeaks really make a difference to Cambodians?