I’ve always said Foreign Minister George Yeo isn’t my favourite man in white, for many reasons too tedious to retail here. (But his wife and kids are lovely people).
So, I was not surprised — tho nevertheless disappointed — to read his first reactions concerning the Wiki leaks relating to Singapore in media reports.
He was quoted as dismissing the offending remarks purportedly made by Singapore’s top civil servants at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Singapore’s super diplomat Tommy Koh as being taken out of context and cocktail party talk.
If I were him, i would have strongly rubbished the Wiki leaks. They were after all stolen documents, or at least seemingly stolen documents. (In this increasingly John le Carre type of world, who really knows?)
For the sake of keeping life simple, let’s accept they are genuinely stolen. But given the gutter mentality of those who stole the documents, why should we pay them the compliment of believing they won’t doctor or jazz up the contents to ensure the biggest bang, not end up a damp squib?
Also, because they were reports of what the Singapore officials were supposed to have said — and not vebatim statments stolen from MFA’s own systems !! — why oh why should so much credence be placed on them?
Why couldn’t the US guys have added pepper and salt in their reports to please their bosses in the State Department n earn brownie points rather than tell the unglamorous truth that their Singapore counterparts were more interested to talk about food and tell asinine jokes along the lines of FakePMLee etc etc.
What set me along this line of thought is the preposterous suggestion that Prof Tommy Koh used words such as “stupid”. Worse, he was ascribed as having said “big” and ”fat” in the same breath. How uneducated and that isn’t Proh Koh at all!
I have had a slight acquaintance with Prof Koh for years and all my working life i’ve been smarting from a comment he once made about my work — when I was a grunt at MFA and he a high up ambassodor. It’s not his style to use such peasant-like vocabulary as alleged in the Wikifakes. While cruel in his dismissal of my work, it was worded with sophistication.
So, no I don’t believe anything of what is coming out from Wikifakes. But after reading the transcript (reproduced below from MFA’s site) of Mr George Yeo’s media interview given on Saturday, I can see that his answers to journalists were a lot more robust than reported. So our Foreign Minister was clearly over-summarised.
And I am delighted to see that MFA has at last revealed investigations into the purported remarks which showed that 1) they “did not tally with our own records’ and 2) one purported meeting did not even take place.
Now what needs to be done is to find out who Mr Julian Assange’s puppet masters are. Let the United States lead the charge. Or I would begin to suspect that there is more than meets the eye with the continuing torrent of Wikifakes.
If the most powerful nation in the world can be brought to its knees by just one man — or a small group of Assange clones — why should anyone think having America as an ally will be a plus any more?
You tell me!
Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo’s Interview with the Media on WikiLeaks at the Eurasian House on Sunday 12 December 2010 at 5.00pm
Question: Minister, with regard to the recent comments that there were some comments made by Ministry officials about other countries like Malaysia, what are your comments on these things that came out on Wikileaks?
Minister: 250,000 emails, reflecting the views of US diplomats, have been leaked. I’m quite sure that there will be a few which emanate from Singapore. These are interpretations by US diplomats of what they have heard, their conversations. I don’t think it is right of us to comment on these, because these conversations were confidential, some might be informal, but we don’t know the context, so I would not go beyond that. But it is bad practice to me for such confidential communications to be leaked, because it makes future confidential communications that much more difficult. It is almost as if when we talk, we have to talk on the basis that there is a camera in the room recording everything we say. Then we lose something when that happens.
Question: Has the Foreign Ministry been in touch with the diplomats named in the cables? Have you had any correspondence with them since the story broke this morning?
Minister: Which story broke this morning? About comments made by Bilahari and Tommy Koh?
Minister: [Laughs] I’m quite sure they make worse comments about me. [Laughter] No, no, these are in the nature of cocktail talk, people say things in a blunt, forthright way. I don’t think we should divorce… even if true, we should not divorce what is said from the context.
Question: Are you saying that they are not true?
Minister: I have no idea. [Laughs]
Question: The Australian newspapers claim that this will spark political controversy in the region.
Minister: No, this whole WikiLeaks saga will run on for some time, and it will be worldwide. No doubt so far the juicier bits, supposedly, have come out. But there will be more coming out in the future, “Oh, you said this about me, I said this about you”, and it goes on. I think it is best that we respect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.
Question: Do you see this affecting any relations?
Minister: Relations with?
Question: With the countries involved.
Minister: No, I don’t think so. I’m quite sure that others may say things about us, which we may find perhaps unsurprising, in confidential diplomatic communications.
Question: So this WikiLeaks saga is pretty damaging to the diplomatic world. How do you see this panning out?
Minister: Well, it is American law, because if confidential information falls on your laps, then you have the freedom to spread it. This is not the case in many countries, not in Singapore, where you have the Official Secrets Act. If you are in receipt, however accidentally, of confidential information, disseminating it is a crime and you will be prosecuted. It is the case in most countries. But the US takes freedom of information to a point where you can’t stop these things from happening. And it goes back to the Vietnam War, when because of the release of the Pentagon papers, a political change happened in that country, and there was a certain loss of faith in the institutions. They are quite determined to maintain that right, even though many of them know that there is a cost to be paid for maintaining that right.
Question: Sir, sorry, I just want to confirm something. So what do you think is the impact of this latest string of comments that our senior staff and Cabinet [members] have made on diplomatic relations? Did you say that there was no impact? What sort of impact will there be?
Minister: I don’t know what impact there will be, or how others will interpret it. But because of the nature of diplomatic communications, taking it out of context, that, “look, so and so said such and such a thing”, at a cocktail, about a particular incident, and it gets reported, I don’t think we should over-interpret such communications.
Question: So the Foreign Ministry has not received any communications from these countries that were named?
Minister: Oh, I only saw it this morning in The Sunday Times.
Question: So, so far nothing yet, right?
Minister: No, I don’t think we want to comment on what others say about us. It’s not for us to say, “yes it’s true” or “yes, it’s not true”. Then it’ll be endless.
Question: But Sir, this is what we said about others, not what others said about us.
Minister: That is what certain individuals said about others, there could be a diversity of views. As I said, they probably said things about me which I may not agree with. But that’s fine, that’s to be expected. If you want to hear everything which others say behind your back and take offence at it, you’ll be a very unhappy person.
Question: Do you think this WikiLeaks saga has had a very negative implication on US diplomatic relations?
Minister: I think it will have an impact on diplomatic communications where it involves American diplomats, because, well, you can never be sure. So since you’re not sure, you’ll err on the side of safety and manage the risk.
Question: Will that then affect relations with America?
Minister: No, the diplomatic work will still have to continue, hard subjects will still have to be addressed. People will find ways to convey messages and points so that if they are released, then the entire context is clear. I’m always wary about taking a sentence or a phrase out of context, out of time and space – but, when, how, what did I say before, and what did I say after? What’s your overall presentation?
Question: Have you had a look at the actual cables yet, at what was inside?
Minister: The American cables?
Minister: No, I’ve only seen what The Sunday Times has put up. I’m not quite sure if The Sunday Times should be putting up all these things, because you are really adding to the general melee. It is gossip, and does it help?
Question: So it is gossip and quoted out of context.
Minister: It is always out of context, and is it right to ask people to confirm, “Was this what you said? It was reported.” Then it is endless.
Question: So have you asked the people to confirm if that was what they said?
Minister: No, no, I have no intention of asking. These are confidential communications. Thank you.
. . . . .