The latest public unveiling of official and unofficial state secrets by Wikileaks has provided a treasure-trove of information that reveals new diplomatic tensions and elucidates others. While only a snippet of the 251,287 cables (diplomatic messages) from US embassies and consulates around the world have been made publicly available through Wikileaks and various news outlets, what can already be gleaned anticipates a broader understanding of international relations on a range of issues, including on Tibet.
The New York Times (which had an advanced look at the cables, along with The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, and Der Spiegel) has already reported that a contact in Beijing informed US Embassy officials there that GhostNet, a global computer spy ring originating in China which targeted among others, the office of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile and Google, was a project controlled by the CCP’s Politburo (a group of 24 people who lead the Party).
A separate cable available on Wikileaks from the American Embassy in Beijing, dated May 2009, reports that China requested that the UK government deny permission for the Dalai Lama to transit London, only to back down and ask that UK officials not meet with the Tibetan leader during his time in the UK.
And while Beijing’s displeasure with the Elysée over the issue is already well known, the same cable tells of China’s formal protest to French officials and the Beijing city government’s threat to end its sister-city relationship with the French capital over the decision by the city of Paris to award the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship (the Dalai Lama accepted the award from Parisian mayor Bertrand Delanoe on June 7, 2009 and Beijing’s familial civic ties with Paris remain firmly in tact). Somewhat surprisingly, the cable also reports that China had not made similar demands on the German government, at least at the time, despite the Dalai Lama’s frequent visits to Germany.
The Guardian has also published a cable from the US embassy in South Korea dated February 22 of this year, in which Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the US State Department, and Kim Sung-hwan, a National Security Adviser for South Korea, discussed the February 18 meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama. According to the cable, Kim “said that the Chinese were ‘far too sensitive’ about the Tibetan spiritual leader’s meetings with foreign officials. A few years ago, Kim related, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] had crudely pressured the ROK [Republic of Korea] government into canceling a planned speech by the Dalai Lama at a Buddhist conference on Cheju Island.”
While certainly interesting from a historical or news point of view, one of the most important things we may be able to gain from cables such as these is a more accurate analysis of just how true to their word Beijing officials are when they threaten and cajole other governments whenever the prospect of a visit by the Dalai Lama to their countries is raised.
How much might we expect to learn regarding Tibet from the public disclosure of over 250,000 diplomatic cables? A quick look at a compilation of data by the Guardian shows that 198 of the cables contain “Tibet” as part of their subject, 134 have “Tibetan” in the subject, 41 contain “Tibetans,” 144 have “Dalai,” 133 contain “Lama,” and 26 cables deal with “Lhasa.”
In addition, 1,145 of the cables contain the word “Tibet” in their contents, 828 contain the word “Tibetan,” 776 cables contain “Dalai,” and 1,346 contain the word “Lama.”
There are also 36 cables that are tagged as “Tibetan.” [Source: the Guardian]
Any time Wikileaks discloses high-profile documentation emotions run high, ranging from excitement at the prospect of access to information and opinions previously unknown to the public, to outrage at what some see as part of a government’s domain that should remain confidential. However, many, if not most, of these messages will undoubtedly contain information already easily accessible and well-worn in the media. As will be the case with nearly all other issues these cables touch upon, most of what we may learn about Tibet will be found in the details and in those rare moments when, for reasons that will not always be known, what was supposed to remain behind closed doors becomes clear to us all.