Alarming reports are coming from Washington about the highly anticipated Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. It seems that US officials have been ordered to promote Malaysia from Tier 3, the bottom ranking where Thailand was controversially placed last year. The reports - not denied by US officials - say Malaysia's rise back to Tier 2 was for purely political reasons, because President Barack Obama needs Malaysia's support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations.
The US has already helped to debase its own report, by refusing to address the issue. The initial news came from the Reuters news agency, and last weekend The New York Times said it had confirmed it. The TIP 2015 report will be rolled out in at least semi-disgrace. Country reports and rankings seen as objective, made under a single set of standards, now appear tainted by political influence.
Another hugely important issue is one that has been raised several times by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the government. Malaysia reportedly is to be promoted from its Tier 3 rating because its parliament has passed an anti-trafficking bill, and because of Malaysian help on dealing with the Rohingya exodus of April and May. Thailand has been told the 2015 report covers anti-trafficking activities only through to March.
Indeed, an inquiry was made last week to the US State Department by Reuters, on exactly this point. Here is what Katrina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department's East Asia and Pacific Bureau, said. This year's report only covers the year to March 2015, she said. This does not include Thailand's latest crackdown. Reuters then quoted her precisely: "We welcome Thailand's law enforcement actions, including the arrests of dozens believed to be involved in migrant smuggling and abuses against migrants, which may include human trafficking, in southern Thailand."
We will soon learn the truth. If Malaysia is promoted from Tier 3 for recent actions, then the report is a partial sham. So is the claim that the US has a single, objective set of standards to rank countries. Clearly, to promote Malaysia because of a new law ignores Thailand, which has passed several such laws in the past three years. What's more, claiming that Malaysia deserves Tier 2 promotion for its actions in April and May contradicts the US claim of a March 31 cutoff date.
There is great political and diplomatic danger here. Mr Obama and his administration are taking a huge risk on their credibility if they show such hypocrisy. The annual TIP reports have recently been treated as the gold standard of how countries act against human trafficking. If a country's ranking depends on whether its officials coddle up and cooperate with the US on issues like the TPP, the TIP report is essentially worthless.
Recall how successive presidents have destroyed the credibility of other such US reports, such as those claiming to measure action on intellectual property (IP) and on terrorism. For years, countries including Thailand have been ranked in low positions in the IP report for spurious reasons. Thailand is rated as uncooperative because it acted legally but against US desires on medicine patents. Cuba was just removed from the list of state terrorism sponsors as a straight quid pro quo reward for re-establishing diplomatic relations.
Malaysia's Tier 3 promotion will allow Kuala Lumpur to support Mr Obama's precious trade treaty. It will also weaken, cheapen and expose the TIP report as just another partial political deception.