The Singapore Government has once again claimed that Singapore’s history is what it says it is, and that the claims of “revisionist historians and their proxies” lack “academic rigour [and] intellectual honesty”.
Historians and others, including former members of the breakaway faction of the People’s Action Party (PAP), the Barisan Socialis, say that the arrests of more than 100 members of Barisan Socialis during Operation Coldstore in February 1963 was politically motivated.
This is a view which runs counter to the Singapore Government’s position – that the security operation was to arrest “communists” who supported armed struggle.
In a statement which was reported by the local press on Thursday, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Sam Tan, says such contrarian views “downplay the communist threat to Singapore in the 1960s”, the Straits Times reports.
“Revisionist historians and their proxies have resorted to defending their claims on the grounds that these were ‘peer reviewed’, but they have not been able to deny or refute the contrary sources and overwhelming evidence that demolish their thesis,” Mr Tan’s statement said.
Mr Tan did not name the so-called “proxies” of the “revisionist historians”, nor did he provide specific facts or evidence to debunk the findings of historians.
Instead, he attacked the research work of these historians.
“Historical discourse and debate requires academic rigour, intellectual honesty and respect for evidence,” he saidd. “These qualities have been sadly lacking among those championing a revisionist account of a key fight on our road to independence.”
Mr Tan’s statement follows the 8-page response from the High Commissioner to Australia, Burhan Gafoor, to an article by former Barisan Socialis member, Poh Soo Kai, in an Australian online publication, New Mandala, on 3 December.
Dr Poh, who was a founding member of the PAP, had written his article in turn as a response to the Government’s re-release of Lee Kuan Yew’s radio broadcast, The Battle for Merger.[Read Dr Poh’s article here: “Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ revisited”]
On Wednesday, 14 January, New Mandala published Part 2 of Dr Poh’s views on Singapore’s history, in particular to Operation Coldstore.[Read Part 2 here: “Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ revisited – Part 2”.]
As for Mr Burhan’s 8-page article, a member of the public, Ng Kok Lim, has provided a detailed point-by-point rebuttal of the article, based on historical findings.[Read the articles here: Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.]
Mr Tan, in his statement, said that those who disagreed with the Government’s position “have not refuted the evidence presented, drawn from both the British archives as well as published accounts by key CPM leaders.”
CPM refers to the Communist Party of Malaya.
However, the historians and former Barisan Socialis members have presented their own evidence, from historical archives in the United Kingdom and Australia, which they say refutes the Government’s claims.
They have also called for the Government to release Singapore’s own secret historical documents, such as Cabinet Papers, so that the facts can be ascertained more comprehensively.
The Government, however, has refused to do so, although it has been more than 50 years since Operation Coldstore took place.
The Government claims that the release of such documents may not lead to “good governance”.
“Cabinet Papers are classified and they are not made available,” Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong, told Parliament in 2014, when opposition Member of Parliament, Low Thia Khiang, asked for the papers to be released in tranches to the public.
“Our approach is not transparency for transparency sake,” Mr Wong added. “Our approach is transparency that leads to good governance.”
The questions over the Government’s version of events which led to Singapore’s independence in 1965 have come to the fore after several historians, both Singaporean and foreign, cast doubts on aspects of the Government’s story, following the release of secret documents in the UK, in particular.
These historians include Tim Harper, a history professor at Cambridge, and Greg Poulgrain, professor at Griffiths University in Australia.
Singaporean historians such as Lysa Hong and Oxford-based Thum Ping-tjin, have also called the Government’s claims into question.
Singaporean historian and assistant professor at the Institute for East Asian Studies at Sogang University, South Korea, Loh Kah Seng, has just published “The History Writes Itself: An annotated bibliography of Operation Coldstore“.
“The history of Operation Coldstore writes itself. British sources demonstrate that the Barisan pursued a constitutional struggle, that there was no case for the arrests, and that Britain had bowed to political pressure in conducting a security operation where no threat existed. The research of so-called ‘revisionists’ like Wade and Thum simply built on the pioneering work of Ball, Jones and Harper.”
Dr Loh added:
“It is mandatory, in fact, for the Singapore government to allow access to the archives if its stance on Coldstore is to be rigorously defended.”
Here is a video of Dr Thum debunking the Government’s claims on Operation Coldstore.