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WikiLeaks Asia: "There but for the grace of God"

East Asia's reaction to Cablegate is so far subdued. Some say the US may win sympathy.

Murata said U.S. cables may fuel arguments that Japan bows too much to U.S. pressure, particularly in relation to Tokyo's recent moves to relax a ban on exporting its military technology. "Many Japanese feel that this policy change may have been done under American influence or pressure," said Murata. "Some may feel this is evidence that Japan is too dependent on the U.S."

Chinese commentators had a mostly low-key reaction. With the exception of some choice remarks by Chinese officials about "spoiled child" North Korea, many of the cables from China released so far have been pedestrian (says China's top diplomat to U.S. visitors about China-U.S. cooperation: “If we expand the pie for the common interest, the pie will be larger and more delicious.”)

But Chiang, the Taiwanese commentator, said in a phone interview that Beijing is likely fretting, since information control is "vital for the survival of their regime" and authoritarian governments like China's are a stated WikiLeaks target. "They must be very alarmed," said Chiang. "There must be a lot of emergency meetings."

Taiwan, for its part, is bracing for the publication of nearly 3,500 cables that WikiLeaks claims to have from the American Institute in Taiwan, America's de facto embassy in the absence of formal ties, and one of its most sensitive diplomatic posts. But Chiang said he doubts anything "surprising" will emerge, since Taiwan's rowdy talk shows and manic 24-hour-media has already chewed through most everything involving U.S.-Taiwan relations.

One possibility, said Chiang, was cables that could "confirm Beijing's suspicions" about former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian (nickname "Ah-Bian"), now jailed on corruption charges. Last decade Beijing and Washington accused Chen of stirring up tensions by pushing the envelope on independence; AIT cables could further tarnish Chen's image. "It will be the nail in Ah-Bian's coffin," said Chiang.

Chiang noted that we'd only seen the "tip of the iceberg," since just 300 out of some 250,000 cables have been posted. But so far, he and others say the massive leak hasn't appeared to have done as much damage as some feared, at least in East Asia.

Lingnan University's Bridges said "people are going to be a bit more wary about what they say to American diplomats," but that their Asian counterparts will probably sympathize.

"I think there will be a sort of 'there but for the grace of God go I' kind of view — the Americans have been caught out and this is very embarrassing, but it could have been them."

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