Follow up Submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Parliament of Singapore

Pingtjin Thum
May 3, 2018 · 11 min read

Dr. Thum Ping Tjin
University of Oxford

3 May 2018

Note: The line numbers refer to the transcript of the hearing.

At the invitation of Mr Shanmugam (lines 1049–1065, 1808, 5591), I am submitting this as a follow up to my hearing to be entered into the record, to address points raised which I was unable to fully address during the hearing. This includes clarification of points raised, clarification of sources and documents raised in the hearing, and submission of documents requested during the hearing on specific incidents.

Clarification of Points Raised

1. The crux of my original submission was not addressed in the discussion. Instead, the focus of discussion in the hearing was my article “The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”. As such, I attach my article in this submission to be included in the report to the Select Committee (attachment 1). Regardless of the merits of my article, the larger point which I made in my submission remains substantially unchallenged: “Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, politicians have told Singaporeans that people were being detained without trial on national security grounds due to involvement with radical communist conspiracies to subvert the state. Declassified documents have proven this to be a lie. Operation Coldstore was conducted for political purposes, and there was no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in any conspiracy to subvert the government.”

2. I note that the fundamental arguments of my article as laid out in the conclusion (page 21–22) were not raised nor challenged.

3. At no point did I accept that any part of my article was inaccurate or misleading. The focus of a major part of the hearing was on my interpretation of two documents: A mole within the Barisan organisation attended two meetings of the Barisan Socialis on 23 September and 30 September 1962 and submitted two memoranda describing the discussions of the two meetings. The meetings were called to discuss the party’s strategy following the Merger referendum of 1 September 1962. The Barisan Sosialis believed that the PAP had effectively rigged the referendum by using the parliamentary process to force through referendum ballot that contained three options, all of which favoured merger, of which only the PAP’s version was feasible, and with no option to say no. The documents, therefore, must be read against the anger and frustration of the Barisan rank and file, who — as I noted in my article “had complained that the constitution was pointless if it was so easily manipulated”.

a. Only one sentence of my article was subject to any substantial challenge: “Selkirk chose to interpret these as calls to abandon constitutional action, and disregarded their unanimous agreement to keep following peaceful constitutional action” (page 19). I was invited to consider a hypothetical scenario presented by Mr Shanmugam to interpret the sentence in the light of a single document, despite the fact that the footnote reference in my ARI paper is based on two separate meetings and notes of these meetings of the Barisan Socialis on 23 September and 30 September 1962. Mr Shanmugam’s questioning focused primarily on the notes of the 23 September 1962 meeting.[1] I repeatedly declined to do so. Finally at the instruction of the Chairman to do so (line 5013–5014), I replied “Just based on this document [the 23 September 1962 telegram], I accept that I could have worded what I said better, yes.” (Lines 5002–5019). Subsequent references to rewording the sentence (e.g. 5485, 5492) must be understood in that context. If we take the sentence based upon both meeting notes and all documents cited and in the context it was presented within my article, the sentence is accurate. In particular, paragraph 3 of the meeting notes of 30 September 1962 is clear: “All the speakers were agreed that the first immediate task was to overthrow the P.A.P Government through victory in the State elections”. This second document, and this particular paragraph, is crucial to understanding my overall argument that there was “unanimous agreement to keep following peaceful constitutional action”.

b. In particular, it would be inaccurate to interpret the sentence in question as an attempt to omit some Barisan members’ calls for extra-constitutional action. The preceding sentence in my ARI paper acknowledges these calls: “Barisan members had complained that the constitution was pointless if it was so easily manipulated, asking if there was another way forward.”

c. Equally, I stated that “I accepted that perhaps I could have rephrased this better, but fundamentally, I think my point stands that they were going to keep following peaceful constitutional action.” (line 5186–5188) I accept that it was possible for the sentence to take into account the hypothetical scenario that the Barisan members may choose to take up arms in the future. However, as I stated in lines 4879–4884, the Barisan members had not actually resolved to take up armed struggle, and thus for the historically relevant purpose of identifying whether or not Operation Coldstore was necessary in the context, the more relevant historical point of note was the Barisan’s actual resolve to continue with constitutional struggle.

d. Less historically relevant was the question of what the Barisan would have hypothetically done in a situation where the constitutional order was subverted. For instance, one Barisan member who attended the 23 September 1962 meeting conceived of armed struggle in a situation where Lee Kuan Yew “would “replace the constitutional form of struggle with a military dictatorship”. These were hypothetical scenarios as of September 1962.The omission of these hypothetical (and speculative) possibilities does not impair the fundamental point of the sentence: that there was “unanimous agreement to keep following peaceful constitutional action.” My sentence is accurate.

e. In response to Mr Shanmugam’s statement that “The way you have put it is misleading and it should have been better phrased and what Lord Selkirk said in his telegram on that second point is accurate” (line 5227–5228), I replied “On the second point, yes.” I did not accept that my work was in any way misleading. I only accepted that Selkirk was accurate that Lim Chin Siong had not completely ruled out violence, but in the context this was a less historically relevant fact than the Barisan’s decision to continue with the constitutional struggle for the time being.

f. I wish to note an error in the record which could be misleading to readers. While Mr Shanmugam corrects himself in speech at line 4178, the record does not adequately reflect that Mr Shanmugam began reading from a different document. Therefore, it appears as if he continues to be referring to Lord Selkirk’s Telegram 582 of 14 December 1962, instead of Telegram 573 of 11 December 1962 (referenced in fn. 133 of my article). It is important to clarify exactly which document is being referenced, because Telegram 573 in fact shows the Lord Selkirk was more concerned with the political position of the British vis-à-vis merger and the creation of Malaysia, than with the security issue. As I noted in my article, “Lord Selkirk spent the bulk of his four-page telegram to British Secretary of State for the Colonies Duncan Sandys explaining that it was now impossible to deny the Federation the arrests they so badly craved without jeopardising merger.” In other words, his Telegram 573 supports my argument that Operation Coldstore was fundamentally motivated by political, not security, reasons.

Therefore, as I had maintained during the hearing, my sentence that “Selkirk chose to interpret these as calls to abandon constitutional action, and disregarded their unanimous agreement to keep following peaceful constitutional action” is a reasonable interpretation of his position and is not misleading. My overall point in my article that Operation Coldstore was fundamentally motivated by political, not security, reasons, stands.

On Sources and Evidence Used

1. As I explained during the hearing, Memories of a Hero in the Singapore Underground Organisation in the 1950s and 1960s; Mainstays of the Anti-Colonial Movement: The Legendary Figures of the Singapore People’s Anti-British League;and A Preliminary Study on the History of Singapore People’s Anti-British League are not historically reliable. The extracts from these books presented in the hearings, by figures such as Zhang Taiyong, Zhou Guang, Zhong Hua, and Wong Soon Fong, did not contain citations of primary sources and cannot be independently verified. They are published by Hong Kong Footprints Publishing Company. As I stated in the hearing, this company “has been publishing a lot of propaganda by the surviving members of the MCP in order to promote their role in Malayan history” (lines 888–893). They are historically unreliable without further substantiation from other sources, such as the Special Branch archive (see below).

2. On Chin Peng, Secretary-General of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP): As I noted in the hearing, and as reflected in the pages from Chin Peng’s book “My Side of History” (Media Masters, 2013) that were displayed, Chin Peng wrote

a. “Throughout the emergency I had been unable to exert any reasonable degree of control over the CPM’s operations on the island. One committee grouping after another had been smashed by British-directed police action in early stages. Thereafter our island-wide political network was continually being compromised by betrayals and defections.” (lines 1394–1398; Page 409 of “My Side of History”).

b. That the MCP “never controlled the Barisan Socialis” (lines 3879; Page 438).

3. On Eu Chooi Yip (Leader of the MCP Singapore Town Committee, based in Riau) and Fong Chong Pik, (his representative in Singapore, aka the “Plen”): The page of Fong’s book shown during the hearing clearly states “As Old Eu informed me, at the time, the entire organisation in Singapore had been smashed. In the early 1950s, the original Town Committee had been dissolved and no longer in existence … The other district level organisations had also suffered attacks and collapsed” (lines 780–784; Page 122 of “Memoirs of a Malayan Communist Revolutionary”).

In sum, the selections from works by Chin Peng, Eu Chooi Yip, and Fong Chong Pik displayed at the hearing demonstrate the lack of organised, coordinated intervention by the MCP in Singapore’s politics after the early 1950s.

4. Aloysius Chin was a Senior Assistant Commissioner 1 (SAC 1) in the Special Branch Division during the Malayan Emergency. He operated in the Federation of Malaya, not Singapore. He is not a historian. As I noted in the hearing, his work predates the declassification of British documents (line 3727) and the excerpts of his work shown in the hearing did not bear any citations (lines 3751–3805). His work may be treated as a primary source, and interrogated as such, but not as a secondary source by an academic historian.

5. No documents from Singapore Special Branch were presented during the hearing, despite my statements that it is the “largest and most coherent archive of data” and contained the “best evidence” on communism in Singapore (lines 3414, 4004–4005)

6. Only five documents from the British Colonial Office were cited, and only one in depth:

a. Appendix to COS(59)237, “The Outlook in Singapore up to the End of 1960” (line 4094–4147), 22 Sept 1959, CO 1030/656

b. Lord Selkirk’s telegram 573 of 11 December 1962, CO 1030/1160 (line 4178–4215)

c. Lord Selkirk’s telegram 582 of 14 December 1962, CO 1030/1160 (line 4149–4176).

d. Philip Moore’s telegram of 7 December 1962, with the two reports attached, CO 1030/1160 (lines 4363–5379)

e. Minutes of an Internal Security Council meeting of August 1959, chaired by William Goode (lines 2889–2905). This document appears not to be previously declassified and I request a copy.

By comparison to the above, my article cites 40 books and academic papers, and 61 declassified documents from the British Colonial Office and Singapore Special Branch archives.

On specific incidents raised during the hearing

1. The Hock Lee Bus Strike (May to June 1955) and the lack of MCP involvement (line 5591).

On 30 March 1955, Special Branch reported that it had successfully arrested the leader of the MCP’s labour infiltration branch (“E” branch)–just nine months after arresting his predecessor–and confirmed that the ‘“E” Branch was no longer an effective unit of the MCP in Singapore.’[2] In analysing the Hock Lee Bus Strike, Special Branch concluded that the strike was due to the PAP political manipulation. It emphasised that the PAP was using workers for political gain: ‘The PAP have continued to seize every opportunity to exploit industrial unrest and obviously intend to take advantage of all the freedoms extended by the new Government since gaining power’[3]and ‘There has been increasing unrest among workers during the month but no direct indication that this is due to MCP agitation. The PAP appear to be the influence behind these disputes but as its aims and methods follow so closely those of the MCP it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.’[4]

Following the outbreak of the riot, a Special Branch investigation concluded that ‘the recent labour unrest, which culminated in the clashes between workers and students and the Police and in serious rioting, was directed by leaders of the People’s Action Party.’[5]Official reports believed that the grievances were genuine, rooted in ‘workers dissatisfaction with conditions of service’ but the riot was created by People’s Action Party utilising “the classic Communist type of labour agitation.” The reports made no mention of involvement of the MCP.[6]Indeed, the next issue of the Freedom News, the MCP newsletter,carried an editorial celebrating the workers’ triumph but warning that the violence would make future success more difficult. It urged the workers to be “less leftist” in the future.[7]

As requested, I submit the British documents cited above. The Freedom News article may be accessed in Freedom News: The Untold Story Of The Communist Underground Publication(Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2008).

2. Operation Coldstore

As requested, I submit the Internal Security Council (ISC) document on which the detentions were based (this document has been previously made public at and invite the people of Singapore to draw their own conclusions from this evidence. I note that:

a. Out of 173 names included here, 66 are “Suspected Communists” and 19 are “Suspected Communist Sympathisers”. By definition, there is no proof that they are communists or communist sympathisers.

b. 27 are “Communist Sympathisers”, and three are “Fellow Travellers”. Sympathising with communism was not against the law. No evidence is provided for acts which warranted detention.

c. 60 are classified as “Communists”. However, no evidence is supplied for communist involvement. In general, the “Brief Summary of Security Record” by each name lists legitimate legal and constitutional political activities.

Subsequent interrogation of the detainees held under Operation Coldstore found no evidence of a communist conspiracy.[8]None of the detainees of Operation Coldstore have ever been put on trial for the charges that they were detained under.


1. Transcript of Hearing

2. The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”, Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No 211.

3. Police Intelligence Journal, 4/1955, 30 April 1955, FCO 141/15952/1, National Archives of the United Kingdom [NAUK].

4. Police Intelligence Journal, 5/1955, 31 May 1955, FCO 141/15952/1, NAUK.

5. Documents from FCO 141–15158 — DI Goodwin, “Report on Strike Situation”, 14 May 1955, FCO 141/15158, NAUK; “Hock Lee Bus Dispute”, 17 May 1955; “Memorandum on the security situation in connection with the Hock Lee Bus Company dispute”, 17 May 1955, FCO 141/15158, NAUK.

6. Cases considered by the Internal Security Council for Operation Coldstore, CO 1030/1576, NAUK.

7. First Report of Interrogation of Detainees Held Under “Operation Coldstore” by Director Special Branch, 17 July 1963, CO 1030/1578, NAUK.


[1]The discussion of 23 September runs from line 4363–5018 [655 lines]; by comparison, the discussion of 30 September was only from 5021–5074 and 5095–5129 [87 lines].

[2]Police Intelligence Journal, 4/1955, 30 April 1955, FCO 141/15952/1, National Archives of the UK (NAUK), p.34.


[4]Ibid, 36.

[5]Police Intelligence Journal, 5/1955, 31 May 1955, FCO 141/15952/1, NAUK, p.70.

[6]“Memorandum on the security situation in connection with the Hock Lee Bus Company dispute”, 17 May 1955, p. 1, FCO 141/15158, NAUK. See also DI Goodwin, “Report on Strike Situation”, 14 May 1955 and “Hock Lee Bus Dispute”, 17 May 1955, FCO 141/15158, NAUK.

[7]Freedom News №61, May 1955.

[8]First Report of Interrogation of Detainees Held Under “Operation Coldstore” by Director Special Branch, 17 July 1963, CO 1030/1578, NAUK.

Pingtjin Thum

Written by

Historian of Malaya. Research Fellow and Coordinator of Project Southeast Asia, University of Oxford. Managing Director, New Naratif.

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