Singapore's WikiLeaks Gaffes

Some of Singapore's top Foreign Affairs Ministry officials made devastating assessments of Malaysia and its leaders to senior US officials in 2008 and 2009, according to leaked US State Department cables that the WikiLeaks website made available to Australian papers.

In exclusive stories over the weekend, the trio also trashed Japan, India and Thailand, according The Sunday Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, which reported separately that Singaporean officials believed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had been set up by the Malaysian government over the charges of sexual perversion that he is on trial for now, but that he was probably guilty.

The Sunday Age reported that Malaysia is in "dangerous decline," fueled by incompetent politicians, that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak could be prosecuted over the gruesome 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaaribuu if the ruling national coalition were to lose power, and that the situation in the country is "confused and dangerous," fueled by the distinct possibility of racial conflict that could see ethnic Chinese fleeing Malaysia to "overwhelm" Singapore.

The officials who made the comments in separate meetings with senior US officials were foreign affairs chiefs Peter Ho, Bilahari Kausikan and Tommy Koh, according to the Age article. The trio at the time occupied some of the most senior positions in Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry. They all gave US officials damning assessments of Malaysia, according to the stories.

Moreover, the trio said, Thailand is dogged by corruption and a ''very erratic'' crown prince, Japan is a ''big fat loser'' and India is ''stupid."

Although the newspapers speculated that the reports would raise a storm among Singapore's neighbors, Singapore's neighbors have long known of the island country's superior attitude. The quotes in the story merely ratify what is already known. It should be pointed out that Singapore, predominantly made up of ethnic Chinese, has always privately held the view that the surrounding countries have been ruled by hostile, often crooked incompetents who are mostly inferior to the technocrats who run the island republic.

Singaporean authorities have been perennially worried about a Muslim threat to their island country from both Indonesia and Malaysia, formulating the famed "poisoned shrimp" strategy that in a phrase means "swallow us and we will kill you." Singapore thus has a bigger, more modern and more competent air force than Malaysia and Indonesia combined.

''A lack of competent leadership is a real problem for Malaysia,'' Kausikan told US Deputy Secretary of Defence for East Asia David Sedney in one cable, according to the story, citing the need for Najib Razak - now Malaysia's Prime Minister - to ''prevail politically in order to avoid prosecution'' in connection with a 2006 murder investigation linked to one of Mr Razak's aides.

''Najib Razak has his neck on the line in connection with a high-profile murder case,'' Kausikan said, according to the story.

As Asia Sentinel has reported in a long series of stories since Altantuya's murder in October of 2006, Malaysia placed a US$1 billion order for two Scorpènes in a deal engineered by then-defense minister and Deputy Prime Minister Najib. In exchange, a company wholly owned by Najib's close friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, was paid €114 million in "commissions," according to testimony in the Malaysian parliament.

Caught up in it, besides Najib and Razak Baginda, was Altantuya, who was shot in the head and whose body was blown up with military grade explosives. Razak Baginda, her jilted lover, was charged along with two of Najib's bodyguards but was acquitted under unusual circumstances without having to put on a defense. Before she was murdered, Altantuya told witnesses she was to be paid US$500,000 for her role in the submarine deal.

After his release Razak Baginda immediately decamped for Oxford University and apparently hasn't set foot in Malaysia since.

The case, however, remains alive in France. In April, three French lawyers, William Bourdon, Renaud Semerdjian and Joseph Breham filed a case with prosecutors in Paris on behalf of the Malaysian human rights organization Suaram, which supports good-governance causes. In an email, Breham said he and Bourdon are expected to be in Southeast Asia to ask more questions this week. It is unclear if they will visit the Singaporean authorities.

In the Sydney Morning Herald's story on Anwar, ''The Australians said that Singapore's intelligences services and [Singaporean elder statesman] Lee Kuan Yew have told (Australia's Office of National Assessments) in their exchanges that opposition leader Anwar 'did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted'.''

"The document states the Singaporeans told ONA they made this assessment on the basis of ''technical intelligence,' which is likely to relate to intercepted communications. The ONA is also recorded as saying that Anwar's political enemies engineered the circumstances from which the sodomy charges arose. "ONA assessed, and their Singapore counterparts concurred, 'it was a set-up job and he probably knew that, but walked into it anyway','' the cable states.

In Malaysian media Sunday, Anwar charged he was not guilty and that Malaysia's Special Branch was behind the story and had fed it to the Singaporeans.

In Kausikan's September 2008 meeting with Sedney, according to the story, "Kausikan savages Thailand's political elite, labelling Thaksin Shinawatra as ''corrupt'' along with ''everyone else, including the opposition." Kausikan is also critical of Thaksin's relationship with the Thai crown prince, stating that Thaksin ''made a mistake in pursuing a relationship with the crown prince by paying off the crown prince's gambling debts''.

"Kausikan said the crown prince was 'very erratic, and easily subject to influence','' the cable states, while also saying that Kausikan warned of continued instability in Thailand. The statement by Kausikan about Thailand's prince and heir apparent, Vajiralongkorn, could open him to charges of lese majeste if he were to visit the Thai kingdom.

According to the story, "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, according to the story. ''He was equally merciless towards India, describing his 'stupid Indian friends' as 'half in, half out' of Asean.''

Other notable comments about regional affairs made by Kausikan in September 2008, according to the story, include his reported claims that:

  • Burma's neighbors, including China and India, are ''more concerned with stability than justice'' and they feared the Burmese junta's demise could produce ''an Asian reprise of the breakup of Yugoslavia''.

  • He would be ''more comfortable with a nuclear-capable North Korea than a nuclear-capable Iran''.

  • Russia's economy is ''Third World'', its health system a shambles and its demographic challenges almost insurmountable.

  • 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 story quotes the cable as stating that he pointed to China's decision to invest in Africa ''without lecturing them about human rights and democracy as the West does''.