Herald on Sunday senior staffers David Fisher and Jonathan Milne have obtained a 250,000-word dossier of secret WikiLeaks cables. The vast collection will embarrass some politicians but raises key issues of national security. All of the cables will be uploaded to nzherald.co.nz over the next few days.
Prime Minister John Key is facing tough questions as details from leaked US Embassy cables appear to contradict statements made in Parliament.
The embarrassing details are contained in a cable which has revealed secret details of his meeting with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.
It is among an extensive collection of WikiLeaks cables about New Zealand – a staggering 250,000 words worth of cables detailing more than seven years of confidential and secret communications.
Among the cables is a briefing which stated that Key told Jiabao in April last year neither he nor any of his ministers would meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The statement broke a promise Key had made before the election – and reassured the Premier almost eight months before the New Zealand public was told.
But the statement might also have landed Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully in trouble after he assured Parliament that there was no boycott.
On November 19, Green MP Keith Locke asked McCully: “Is it government policy that no minister will officially meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits next month?”
McCully answered, “No”. He also said he had discussed the issue with Key.
But the US Embassy cable quoted Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat Grahame Morton as stating: “PM Key had earlier conversed with Premier Wen Jiabao concerning the Dalai Lama’s December 4-7 visit to Auckland, saying that neither he nor any of his ministers would meet with the Dalai Lama.
“Morton said the Chinese ‘obviously registered’ this. Morton added that the PM … made this decision without any consultation, but others in the Government are still obliged to respect it.”
The US Embassy cable – marked “confidential” – also stated “the quid pro quo” is that New Zealand continues to raise Tibet as an issue and encourages dialogue between the two sides, said Morton.
Dalai Lama supporters yesterday expressed anger at the revelation. The Opposition called for a Government explanation.
Labour leader Phil Goff said: “That’s a very clear contradiction. Murray McCully appears to have misled the House.”
Goff – who served as foreign affairs and trade minister – said he knew the diplomat who had briefed the embassy. “That will be a reliable briefing to the US Embassy – and it demonstrates the Key government has not been honest with New Zealanders.”
Goff said he also had concerns about the “quid pro quo”. “You can raise an issue at any time. As a country, if you have values, you have to stand up for those values.”
Locke said he wanted McCully to explain the apparent contradiction between the briefing and the answer he gave in Parliament.
Friends of Tibet chairman Thuten Kesan – who organised the Dalai Lama’s visit – said he personally lobbied Key throughout 2009 to meet the Dalai Lama.
He said he was not told until a few weeks before the December visit that Key would backtrack on his pre-election commitment to hold a meeting – and he had no idea the Chinese Government had been told eight months before. “When a politician promises to do something, it is important that they keep their word.”
Political scientist Bryce Edwards said the disparity could be explained one of three ways – Parliament having been misled, the policy being “unofficial”, or the cable being wrong.
Key had left the country and was unavailable for comment yesterday. Spokesmen for acting Prime Minister Bill English and McCully did not respond by deadline.
April 2009: John Key tells the Chinese Premier neither he nor his ministers will meet the Dalai Lama.
November 2009: Murray McCully tells Parliament there is no ban on ministers meeting the Dalai Lama.
December 2009: The Dalai Lama visits. No ministers meet him.