TRANSCRIPT OF MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS GEORGE YEO’S REPLY TO THE PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION, 10 JANUARY 2011
MS. SYLVIA LIM: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs how the WikiLeaks revelations in November and December 2010 concerning statements purportedly made by Singapore’s senior leaders and diplomats have affected our bilateral relations with ASEAN neighbours.
1 Mr Speaker Sir, Wikileaks’ actions have affected many countries all around the world. Altogether, over a quarter million cables reflecting the views of US diplomats have been leaked from around the world. There are about 700 cables from the US Embassy in Singapore. I understand that there are over 15,500 cables leaked from US diplomatic missions in other ASEAN countries. The leaked cables should be seen in the wider context of diplomacy, where diplomats need to be candid in their analysis with the assurance of confidentiality. The selective disclosure of communications divorced from their context will only serve to sow public confusion and undermine the essential work of governments and diplomats. Particularly so when many of the leaks were the interpretations of the US diplomats on the conversations that they heard. Hence as a matter of principle, we have refrained from commenting on specific leaks.
2 Singapore has long-standing, robust and positive relations with all countries in our region. These relationships are built on a strong foundation of shared interests and mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas. Countries would not allow Wikileaks disclosures to affect their vital interests. In response to a protest submitted by Malaysia on the issue, which was conveyed to our High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur on 14 December, I made a telephone call to my Malaysian counterpart, Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman to explain our policy of not commenting on specific leaks. I did tell him that there were significant inaccuracies in some of the leaked reports in the media. We agreed on the importance of good bilateral relations and strengthening cooperation further.
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TRANSCRIPT OF MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS GEORGE YEO’S REPLIES TO SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS, 10 JANUARY 2011
SPEAKER: Sylvia Lim.
MS SYLVIA LIM (NMP): So, three supplementary questions for Minister. The Malaysian Foreign Minister spoke to Channel News Asia in mid-December in the week of the leaks and he commented that the leak episode will not help bilateral relations between our two countries and that Singapore would have to do more to convince Malaysia that it is really interested in having good relations with Malaysia. So, I’d like Minister’s comment on whether he agrees that from the Malaysian point of view, these comments appear to suggest that they consider it a setback in the relationship.
The second point is that the Ministry has said that the records of the US diplomats aren’t fully accurate, and one of the meetings didn’t even take place. Has the Government taken issue with the US State Department on the recording of these minutes?
And the third point is that Minister told the press that this episode would likely affect diplomatic communications with US diplomats, i.e. we would have to manage the risk in dealing with US diplomats. So I’d like to ask whether the Government has made any changes since then in how we deal with US diplomats.
MINISTER: Mr Speaker Sir, it was partly because of what Dato’ Seri Anifah said to the media that I called him up in order to explain to him why we were not coming out to clarify what was, or what was not, communicated in our discussions with US diplomats. In the case of the leaks in the Australian media, they were in fact based upon leaks which Fairfax Media obtained from Assange – apparently a conversation between Australian and US diplomats mentioning us in their conversation. It is not even first-hand, and the original leaks have not been released. So I think it is not wise for us to go into details; then people would ask: did you say this, did you say that? And if we allow such a train of questioning, then eventually everything comes out. Now the US government is not going to comment on the accuracy or the veracity or the basis for all these despatches, and that is our policy too.
So to the first question, following my telephone conversation with Dato’ Seri Anifah, there have been no further démarches on this subject. If there are, certainly we would respond accordingly. Whether we would take the matter up with the US government; well we would not, based on the same principle which I stated earlier. Will it affect communications with US diplomats? I think inevitably, because if this happened once, it can happen again, and I think we have got to be more careful. But at the same time, I would say, with the miniaturisation of microphones and cameras, I think we have got to be more careful in any case, whatever we express in confidence to other people. Mind you, something is lost. Part of the intimacy of communication is that we must be able, sometimes without all the evidence in support, to express our deep fears, concerns and hopes.
In the nature of statecraft, in the nature of diplomacy, we construct scenarios in our minds, some quite dark ones. And with friends, with people whom we have intimate communication, we share some of these scenarios. Now, we cannot prove these scenarios, or prove some of these speculations in any rigorous way. But, these are based upon instincts or information that we pick up from here and there. So, yes, we have to be more guarded in our communication with US diplomats. I think the Wikileaks disclosures have been disastrous for US diplomacy. But, this applies to other forms of communication as well. At the same time it is a loss because I think part of human relationships is that we must be able to share more when we trust somebody more.
I visited a software company just a few days ago and I was told that they are now able to imitate you – your accent, your manner of expression – so that you press a button and the same words can be spoken in a different accent, as if somebody else was speaking those words. You are not quite sure now, even if you record a conversation or even if you see a video, what to believe or what not to believe. This is a new challenge posed by technology and I think all of us, including in international diplomacy, are responding to this really profound revolution in technology and trying to understand what it means for human communication and relationships.
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