Thum Ping Tjin has recently made a startling assertion that after his works were published, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) “no longer say that they have evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in a communist conspiracy”. He claims this is a “major shift in position” and proves that MHA “also accept my sources are accurate and legitimate”.
The Government has quite understandably ignored Thum’s erroneous claims probably because it believes the public is discerning enough not to be misled by his singular desire to spin his own version of history. Still, it is important to set the record straight in case such unsubstantiated claims gain acceptance by default because no one rebutted them.
A quick recount of some of the evidence and facts would be in order to debunk Thum’s absurd claims. The Government has stated, as recently as 14 Dec 2014, that “[a] full reading of the declassified documents from the British National Archives shows clearly that Operation Coldstore was a security operation meant to counter the serious security threat posed by the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their supporters in Singapore, working through the Barisan and associated communist united front (CUF) organisations”. The Government stated that revisionists like Thum “conveniently omit mention of the incriminating information in these documents” by quoting documents “selectively”. British officials as well as CPM leaders have acknowledged that the Barisan was “the prime CUF body in Singapore in the 1960s, influenced, directed and led by CPM cadres”.
In this and another reply dated 20 Jan this year, the Government revealed among other things, the CPM strategy to capture political power in Singapore and use Singapore as a base to establish communist rule in the whole of Malaya, the formation of Barisan on the explicit instructions of the CPM, the CPM control of trade unions and other mass organisations, the communist antecedents of Barisan leaders, the discussions about armed struggle by Barisan cadres, Barisan’s support for the Brunei revolt in Dec 1962, and CPM’s decision in Beijing to prevent the formation of Malaysia and instructions to its proxies in Singapore.
In addition to the Government’s replies, I would add a Cold War dimension to the CPM’s strategy and highlight the Communists’ grand design in Southeast Asia. Chin Peng, the CPM’s Secretary-General, wrote in his memoirs that in July 1961, he and two other CPM leaders met Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Deng Xiaoping who informed them that Southeast Asia “was about to undergo monumental changes”. Deng said that “Strategically, the whole region … would become ripe for the sort of struggle we had been pursuing in Malaya for so long. The CPM must not…switch policies at this point. We must take advantage of the opportunities that would soon be presenting themselves throughout South East Asia”. Basically, Deng persuaded Chin Peng to persist with their armed struggle as this was going to happen in a big way in the region. Chin Peng further revealed that the CCP provided the CPM with financial support, training, a headquarters in Beijing and other amenities.
Clearly, the overall communist plan in the early 1960s was to turn Southeast Asia red, starting with Indochina in the north and Sukarno’s Indonesia in the south. As communist forces mounted attacks in Indochina, Sukarno, launched ‘konfrontasi’ against Malaysia on 20 Jan 1963 (two weeks before Operation Coldstore), starting with harassment of fishing boats and escalating to armed incursions and bombings by mid-1963. A month before ‘konfrontasi’ was launched, Brunei rebels staged a revolt. The Indonesian communist party (PKI) called for full support for the rebellion and urged the Government to make it a success. Sukarno and the Indonesian Parliament declared its support and so too did the Barisan and Partai Rakyat (PR) in Singapore. The Barisan and PR held rallies and discuss plans to whip up support for the rebellion and recruit volunteers from Singapore to fight alongside the Brunei rebels. The communists and their proxies in Singapore hoped that these external forces would prevent the formation of Malaysia. Before they could do more trouble, Operation Coldstore was launched and they were arrested and the threat averted. Chin Peng admitted that Operation Coldstore “shattered our underground network throughout the island”.
This geopolitical backdrop showing communist violence and plans during the period in the region augment earlier government replies about the CPM conspiracy and Operation Coldstore. Thum’s disregard of the overwhelming evidence that justified Operation Coldstore confirm that he is not interested in historical truths but politics. He has declared that “it is the responsibility of academics to critique power, those in power, and how power is used”. In attempting to do so, Thum has put forth a version of history that is seriously flawed and statements that are erroneous.