Malaysia has summoned the Singaporean High Commissioner to answer questions regarding accusations by the media that the city-state has been aiding the United States in its spying efforts across Asia. According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Singapore and South Korea have been helping the United States and other countries tap underwater communication cables as part of a so-called “Five Eyes” program.

Edward Snowden

Details of the ‘Five Eyes’ program

The Five Eyes program refers to a program allowing the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom to essentially trace “anyone, anywhere, anytime”. Singapore and South Korea have been accused of being third parties to the Five Eyes program and helping the aforementioned countries monitor international communications within Asia. According to the documents leaked by Snowden, the United States already taps and monitors all data coming into the United States from Asia and by working with allies has been able to expand its reach abroad.

Both Singapore and South Korea are close allies with the United States. Since the withdrawal of the British from Singapore, the city-state has relied on America to buttress against its larger neighbors. While Singapore sports the most advanced military in the region, with a population of only about 5 million people and a landmass of less than 1000 square miles, Singapore is still diminutive in comparison to its neighbors, leaving it vulnerable.

Still, the recent news could destabilize relations in the region. For the past several decades, the various nations of South East Asia have attempted to put on a united front in the face of American, Chinese, and increasingly Japanese power in the region. Besides forming ASEAN and liberalizing regional trade, countries have increasingly been holding war games together and using their combined voice when dealing with larger powers, such as China.

Snowden leak could threaten ASEAN relations

The most recent Snowden leak, however, could threaten this stability. Malaysia has condemned the charges, stressing that Singapore and Malaysia have previously been “good friends” and that such activities would violate “good neighborly relations.” The High Commissioner has been summoned by Malaysia’s cabinet to answer and respond to Snowden’s allegations.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Zahid Hamidi has stressed that his country would be willing to share relevant information with both Singapore and the United States. At the same time, Hamidi also stated that “in principle no nation should be trying to obtain the secrets of another nation.” Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman has also stated that if true, the allegations are serious and abhorrent. 

This news follows on the heels of Indonesia recalling its ambassador to Australia after allegations surfaced that Australia was tapping the phone lines of its prime minister. Indonesia has also cut off cooperation on stopping the flow of asylum seekers to the Land Down Under, seriously damaging Abbott’s nascent government. Australia has been working diligently to strengthen relations with its Asian neighbors, so this comes as a serious blow to its diplomatic relations.