Leaks could wreck trust in governments, Chinese experts say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2010, 12:00am

Chinese diplomacy and international relations experts described the release of classified US embassy cables from the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks as a 'diplomatic September 11', with the potential impact on Chinese diplomacy still hard to predict.

Niu Jun and Zhang Qingmin, professors at Peking University's school of international relations, said the release, the largest of its kind in the history of world diplomacy, would damage US diplomatic activities and severely hurt its relations with other countries.

'It might also destroy people's trust in their governments [worldwide] and cause nationwide credibility crises,' Niu said, 'especially in the United States.'

The world of diplomacy has rules all of its own, and it was not necessary that the public know all the details of every stage, Niu said. 'Diplomats deal with some issues secretly, and the release will cause big trouble.'

An article in the international section of the Communist Party's mouthpiece website People.com.cn called WikiLeaks' action the 'September 11 of world diplomacy'. But neither it nor any other mainland media that reported the issue yesterday mentioned any leaked cables related to China.

Niu, Zhang, and some other mainland foreign policy experts declined to predict what impact the leaked documents would have on China, as only a few documents related to China had been made public.

One classified cable dated February 1 this year from the US State Department said the US had told China to prevent a Chinese company, Hong Kong 4 Star Electronics, facilitating missile-related exports to Iran.

It said information had indicated Hong Kong 4 Star Electronics had offered late last year to sell gyroscopes produced by a Russian company to an Iranian company, and that they could end up being used in Iranian missiles.

Leaked documents showed the US had complained to Beijing several times over the shipment of missile components from North Korea to Iran via China.

Another cable dated November 3, 2007, and signed by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had instructed the US ambassador in Beijing to persuade China to halt a delivery of missile jet vanes from North Korea that were due to be shipped on a scheduled Iran Air flight from Beijing to Tehran. Jet vanes are used to guide ballistic missiles.

Other China-related issues included the hacking into computers at Google and Western governments. The documents said the US believed that Chinese authorities had been behind those attacks since 2002.

According to another cable, a US diplomat quoted Kyrgyzstan officials as saying that China had offered Kyrgyzstan US$3 billion to close the Manas Transit Centre, a former US air base and still a key conduit for the war in Afghanistan.

US ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller said she had asked her Chinese counterpart, Zhang Yannian, about the allegations and he had become so flustered that he briefly lost his ability to converse in Russian.

According to the website, which is blocked on the mainland, the 8,300 records it has that are related to China make the country the fifth most mentioned in the documents, after Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Israel. Afghanistan is sixth.

But by yesterday, only about 10 classified documents released were related to China, and they mostly were about its relationship with Iran and North Korea and nuclear weapons issues.

As more releases are expected in the next few months, some mainland internet users started to address the potential impact on individuals.

Wang Lixiong, a mainland critic of China's Tibet and Xinjiang policies who has close ties with the exiled Dalai Lama, put on his Twitter account yesterday a post saying that once the conversations between Chinese and US diplomats and the analysis of them were released, mainland authorities might use the cables as evidence to charge people with threatening national security or divulging state secrets.