Tommy Koh quoted out of context in Wikileaks

Wikileaks has done more harm than good, revealing secret US diplomatic cables. What makes it even worse is how some newspapers are citing the cables.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, Tommy Koh, told senior US officials: “I don’t fear China. I don’t fear being assimilated by China.”

It’s an incredible thing for a diplomat to say he doesn’t fear being assimilated by another country. It  can be interpreted two ways: he doesn’t fear the possibility because ( a ) it’s most unlikely or ( b ) it’s nothing to be afraid of.

If he ever said such a thing, what was the context in which he said it?

That’s missing in the Sydney Morning Herald report.

It says it is quoting leaked US State Department cables. But it would have been better in this case to publish the cables with the names of people at risk blacked out, as the Guardian and the New York Times have been doing, for then the quotes could be read in their proper context.

Instead, the Sydney Morning Herald reports:

In a September 2009 meeting with US officials, senior Singaporean foreign affairs official Tommy Koh savages Japan and India in relation to the impact on both countries of China’s increasing regional might.

”Koh described Japan as ‘the big fat loser’ in the context of improving ties between China and ASEAN. He attributed the relative decline of Japan’s stature in the region to Japan’s ‘stupidity, bad leadership, and lack of vision’,” the cable says.

”He was equally merciless towards India, describing his ‘stupid Indian friends’ as ‘half in, half out’ of ASEAN”…

Mr Koh is recorded praising China’s ”investment and intelligent diplomacy in the region”.

”I don’t fear China. I don’t fear being assimilated by China,” the cable states that Mr Koh said, while he pointed to China’s decision to invest in Africa ”without lecturing them about human rights and democracy as the West does”.

This is bad unlike the earlier leaked cable reporting Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s conversation with US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in Singapore in May 2009. During that conversation, MM Lee is reported to have criticized the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and expressed concern about Iran as well. But he is not the only leader concerned about the nuclear ambitions of those two countries. His conversation with Steinberg showed both men seeking peace and cooperation with other countries like wise statesmen and good diplomats.

The Straits Times has picked up the Australian report.


  1. says

    I disagree with your statement that Wikileaks has done more harm than good. Take a look at this:

    Recently cables have portrayed the Vatican in a very bad light, having opposed Muslim Turkey’s entry to the EU and trying enshrine “Christian roots” into the EU constitution and worse of all, trying to complicate an Irish government probe into paedophilic scandals perpetrated by Catholic priests in Ireland. We wouldn’t have known all these if it weren’t for Wikileaks. How many more children must be molested and sexually assaulted before the truth is out? Why is the Vatican covering up for their guilty priests?

  2. says

    If anything I think what this leak shows is that it’s necessary to release the cable as it is without having to go through some mainstream media company where words may be distorted out of context. That’s what Wikileaks is doing. It’s upcoming competitor, OpenLeaks, will adopt a policy of not disclosing the leak outright to people but instead through the media.

  3. sayang says

    This One no leak.
    It was spokened to others, so no secret.
    No secret, then what leak?
    How is one to know if those countries mentioned
    had not been told or informed by Tommy’s audience
    when he said(made) those statements?
    Me always feel proud whenever our leaders and
    diplomats go abroad to sell Sin and themselves.
    They have always impressed me as confident, candid,
    frank and honest.