Being outed as a “source” for American diplomats is not such a big deal after all, perhaps, even in China.
Two weeks after WikiLeaks posted unredacted versions of a quarter of a million US diplomatic cables, revealing the names of American embassies’ local contacts around the world, there are no signs of repercussions for Chinese sources, according to people who have themselves been “outed.”
“Nothing has happened to me, yet, and I have not heard of anyone else getting into trouble,” says Wang Zhenyu, a Beijing lawyer who says he has often met US diplomats to discuss the progress of legal reform in China and whose name was meant to have been “strictly protected” according to a cable that quotes him.
“I don’t think I’ll have any problem from the government, though some ordinary people do not understand," adds Wang Xiaodong, an outspoken nationalist ideologue with a large following on the Web, who also shared his insights with American diplomats, according to the leaked cables.
Heated debate on Chinese social networking sites and microblogs has thrown up accusations of treachery against one prominent and popular intellectual, Yu Jianrong, whose presence in WikiLeaks has been used by a rival to discredit him.
Professor Yu, well known for his defense of peasant farmers against rapacious local government efforts to seize their land, explained to a US diplomat how widespread rural conflicts are in China, according to a 2009 cable.
On his blog this week, Yu defended himself, saying he had been authorized to discuss rural development issues with American officials, and that his meeting had been “an ordinary foreign affairs activity.”
“This is the age of globalization. It is very common for people to communicate with foreigners,” insists Mr. Wang, the lawyer. My conversations were honest and I’ve got nothing to hide,” he adds.
US officials have excoriated WikiLeaks for publishing classified documents, and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last month that the recent revelation of sources’ names “puts individuals’ security at risk. We continue … to assist those who may be harmed by these illegal disclosures to the extent that we can,” she told reporters, without giving details.
The new releases “could be used to intimidate activists in some of these autocratic countries,” P.J. Crowley, a former assistant secretary of state for public affairs told AP. “It does have the potential to create further risk for those individuals.”
Earlier cables released by WikiLeaks were scrubbed of US diplomatic sources’ names on the advice of the US and European news organizations that collaborated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in publishing the documents. Cooperation between those media and WikiLeaks has recently broken down, however, leading to a welter of accusations and counter-accusations as to who is responsible for revealing the supposedly secret names.
Among the 29,431 published cables originating from US diplomatic missions in China are hundreds quoting academics, lawyers, political activists, and others whose insights into China’s often-murky political sphere US diplomats sought.
This reporter's name appears, too, in a confidential 2008 cable setting out the account of my detention – and the simultaneous detention of an underground Christian preacher – that I had given a US embassy political officer on my return from a foreshortened reporting trip.
Fears that the Chinese sources might be viewed and treated as spies appear to be unfounded. Wang says the fact he has been named “will make no difference at all” to his willingness to meet US diplomats in the future, though he is curious to know why his name was meant to be “strictly protected.”
In any event, with WikiLeaks publication drawing attention to US sources, “this didn’t actually protect anybody,” he says. “Just the opposite, in fact."