Archive for December, 2014

Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 3

December 31, 2014

This is part 3 of the rebuttal to Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor’s “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”.

No about turn by Singapore Leftists

Mr Gafoor wrote:

But when the Tunku offered merger through Malaysia in May 1961, the communists made a startling about-turn. They determined to derail merger, even though they had all along insisted that Malaya and Singapore were one entity.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Chin Peng: My Side of History, page 437]

Mr Gafoor only had to flip one more page to understand the so-called ‘startling about turn’. Chin Peng explained on page 438:

Singapore, we maintained, would be entering Malaysia on terms that would be unequal to the other territories. Malaya’s legislation, we said, strongly favoured the Malays to the disadvantage of the Chinese and this situation would remain in force within the new Malaysian concept. We knew the Chinese of Singapore would be deeply worried by the prospects for education in general and Chinese schools in particular under a Malaysia controlled from Kuala Lumpur.

Thus, the anti-merger group (including Barisan, David Marshall and others) weren’t doing an about turn but merely expressing concern that Lee Kuan Yew was pushing Singapore to join Malaysia on unequal terms. History has validated the anti-merger stance with the communal riots that led to Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia.

Alignment isn’t conformance

Mr Gafoor wrote:

Chin Peng later made it clear that the CPM wished to sabotage merger or delay its implementation at that stage. He disclosed that “(The) three of us (Chin Peng, Siao Chang and Eu Chooi Yip) came to the conclusion that it would be in the best interest of our Party (italics inserted for emphasis) if we plotted to sabotage (merger). If we couldn’t derail it, at least we might substantially delay its implementation”. The Barisan conformed to the CPM line and mounted a strong challenge to the PAP on merger.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Chin Peng: My Side of History, page 437]

Mr Gafoor should not mistake the common stance taken by the Barisan and the CPM on the merger issue as evidence of Barisan conforming to the CPM line. At that time, David Marshall also stood with Barisan against merger. Going by Mr Gafoor’s logic, would it be Barisan conforming to David Marshall’s line or David Marshall conforming to Barisan’s line?

In addition to the Barisan, David Marshall and a number of others led a campaign against Singapore joining the Federation on the proposed terms.

[Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control, Carl A. Trocki, page 111]

After they lost the debate on Singapore’s referendum bill in July 1962, a group of Assemblymen led by the Barisan Socialis and David Marshall sent an appeal to the United Nations.

[Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India, Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, page 89]

David Marshall, leader of the Workers’ Party, was opposed to the citizenship provision, and argued that he would continue his opposition to merger unless “the Tunku [was] prepared to agree either to a common citizenship for Malaysia with the right to vote limited to the state in which the citizen was living, or that any alteration …

[Creating “Greater Malaysia”: Decolonization and the Politics of Merger, Tan Tai Yong, page 94]

Even till this day, opposition parties often adopt the same or similar positions on various issues but that doesn’t imply that one opposition party is toeing the line of another opposition party or vice versa.

Anti-British League not necessarily communist

Mr Gafoor wrote:

At least seven of the Barisan’s 16 central committee members were known CPM or former Anti-British League (ABL) members. (The ABL was a CPM underground political organisation set up in 1948 and disbanded in 1957.)

Mr Gafoor should take note that Anti-British League members weren’t necessarily communists as most were free radicals or anti-colonialists.

The first thing to realise is that although left-wing and anti-colonial radicalism flourished to unprecedented levels during the first half of the 1950s, the Communist Party itself was diminishing as a controlling force in Singapore over the same period. The Party machinery was almost completely smashed by the colonial security forces in 1948, and although the surviving operations – most notably the Anti-British League – were notionally answerable to the party, their members and activists were mostly free radicals, swept up in a surge of anti-colonialism. Many were not communists at all and some were much more militant than the Party.

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D. Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 26]

While there is no doubt that Lim Chin Siong, being an ex-Anti-British League member, was ideologically close to the MCP, there has been to date no conclusive proof to indicate that four years after ceasing contact with his direct superior in the ABL, Lim had not evolved into a nationalist socialist leader in his own right. It was in this new, semi-autonomous political role that Lim, as recently revealed in this history of the PAP, Men in White (2009), met Fong three times between the late 1950s and early 1961. It remains difficult to assess the full impact of the MCP on left-wing politics in Singapore until the full content of these meetings is made known.

[The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, Edgar Liao and Lim Cheng Tju and Seng Guo Quan, page 169]

What’s wrong with Fong Chong Pik using the Chinese press?

Mr Gafoor wrote:

On his part, the Plen frankly revealed that he had used the Chinese press to try to delay merger. He wrote: “A lot of the opinions expressed in the newspapers originated from me. “These included slowing down the process of merger, and adopting the form of a confederation.”

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Fong Chong Pik: The Memoirs of a Malayan Communist Revolutionary, page 161]

He was also behind the agitation against educational reform in the Chinese middle schools, resulting in the examination boycott of November 1961. His aim was to arouse public dissatisfaction with the Government in the run-up to the merger referendum.

Mr Gafoor’s reference, reproduced below, shows Fong Chong Pik explaining that he used the Chinese press to delay merger because he felt merger was too hastily prepared and could have caused racial conflict and because it was the only way he could counter slanders against him and his party:

Question: … Do you have anything you wish to say about the period when you went underground in 1951, to the emergence of the Singapore Malaya merger plan in 1963?

Answer: To discuss the past history after several decades may seem like wise after the event. But I felt that some of the actions of Lee Kuan Yew, particularly his haste in pushing through the merger, were mainly aimed at making use of the Malaysian government to suppress the left-wing and consolidate his rule of Singapore. If the left-wing did indeed cause a popular uprising, suppression was quite possible.
Secondly, knowing that the British could easily raise racial issues with the Tunku, I was worried that if the Malaysian government began to suppress the left-wing in Singapore, and the left-wing fought back causing a racial conflict, I would no longer be just political suppression. The wound and pain resulting from such conflict would require several generations to heal. Because of these worries, I did not agree to the merger.
Thirdly, at the time, the rumour in Singapore was that they were intent on obtaining the leadership in Malaysia following merger. They slandered the communists, accusing them of attempting to use Singapore as a base to subvert Malaysia. But we, the communists, could not step out and challenge this to defend ourselves. A lot of the opinions expressed in the newspapers originated from me. These included slowing down the process of merger, and adopting the form of a confederation. It was not all as they said, that the left-wing was opposed to merger because we were afraid of suppression by the Malaysian government.

The Singapore newspaper, Lianhe Zaobao, reprinted the Nanyang Siang Pau interview. Later, on August 4, 1997, Lianhe Zaobao carried a letter to the editor written by Madame Yang Yoon Ying, Lee Kuan Yew’s press secretary, commenting on my interview. Assuming that Madame Yang’s view had originated from Mr. Lee, it was most interesting that her first paragraph should deal with none other than the “merger” issue.

Mr. Fong Chong Pik said that he agreed with the merger, but his words are inconsistent with his actions in the 1960s. He was strongly opposed to merger, and ordered the later Lim Chin Siong to split the PAP to stop the merger. It shows that the material evidence and witness to what had happened are still present.

Obviously, these comments were not aimed at promoting a discussion on the historical evidence of “merger”, whether “merger” was a success or failure, right or wrong. But the thrust was to twist the issue by accusing me of being inconsistent.

I wrote a reply to Madame Yang through Lianhe Zaobao. On September 7, 1997, Lianhe Zaobao published my reply. On the “merger” issue, I had this to say:

First your comments accused me of being inconsistent. This is not in conformity with the facts. Indeed, it is twisting the facts.

In the Nanyang Siang Pau interview, I clearly said: ‘Because of these worries, I did not agree to the merger.’ I did not contradict myself. Where is the inconsistency?

In addition, it needs to be pointed out that those people who stand for ‘unification between Singapore and Malaya’ do not have to accept any unsuitable ‘merger arrangement’. The hungry will search for food, but do not have to ingest poison to satisfy hunger. Where is the inconsistency?

I said in the Nanyang Siang Pau interview, ‘That the 1963 merger was short and temporary demonstrates that the conditions for merger were not ripe.’ Is this not a fact?

My interview was reprinted in the Lianhe Zaobao. Had Madame Yang not read it?

[Fong Chong Pik: The Memoirs of a Malayan Communist Revolutionary, page 160-162]

Mr Gafoor did not provide any reference to Fong Chong Pik’s supposed agitation against educational reform in the Chinese middle schools. In any case, historians have explained why these educational reforms were such a big concern to the Chinese community then that no communist agitation was required for these societal issues to explode into political hot potatoes.

The second issue was the conversion of Chinese middle school structure into an English-medium, multi-ethnic school system and the repeated denial of full government support for the newly established Chinese-medium Nanyang University. When the battle over educational reforms fused with the 1961 internal party split within the PAP …, the campuses of these four tertiary institutions were rocked with protests. Students from these institutions often banded together to launch manifestos, classroom boycotts, hunger strikes and street marches so as to protest against government raids, arrests, expulsions … The post-independence period from 1965 was similarly turbulent as the PAP was determined to follow through with its educational reforms by using the Wang Gungwu Report on Nanyang University … In October and November 1966, hundreds of students again had another serious clash with the police at the Ministry of Education

[The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts, Lysa Hong and Huang Jianli, page 138]

… in another major student protest, the examination strike of 1961, which was also sparked by the government’s initiative to change the Chinese school system. The examination strikes that took place in 1961 were prompted by changes made to the Chinese school system. Traditionally, the Chinese middle schools followed the so-called “3-3 system” … Lim Yew Hock’s … government announced that … Chinese middle school system would be changed to a four-year system in line with the English school system … this new system was opposed by Chinese educators. One major concern was that Chinese schools would disappear … There were also worries that students who failed the Middle Four examinations would lose two years of education … When the PAP took over … in 1959 … the new government planned to go ahead with the change from the “3-3 system” to the “4-2″ system.” … the new government also announced that, starting in 1962, all students in the Middle Four classes would have to take a general school-leaving examination set by the government before they would be allowed to go on to the next level (pre-university). The implementation of the new policy caused conflict between the PAP government and the Chinese educators and eventually led to the examination strikes by the Chinese students.

[Singapore Chinese Society in Transition: Business, Politics, & Socio-Economic Change, 1945-1965, Liu Hong, page 153]


Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 2

December 29, 2014

This is part 2 of the rebuttal to Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor’s “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”.

Communist influence doesn’t imply communist infiltration

Mr Gafoor wrote:

Chin Peng has confirmed that the Barisan was under the CPM’s influence. He cagily disagreed that the CPM “controlled” the Barisan, but admitted: “We certainly influenced them.” He did not elaborate on how the CPM “influenced” the Barisan or who were the CPM’s proxies in its central executive committee, but he confirmed that communists were among those who joined the party.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Chin Peng: My Side of History, page 438]

Mr Gafoor was referring to this paragraph from Chin Peng’s memoirs:

Contrary to the countless allegations made over the years by Singapore leaders, academics and the Western press, we never controlled the Barisan Sosialis. We certainly influenced them. But neither Dr Lee Siew Chor, the Party Chief nor, as I understand it, other prominent opposition figures like the Puthucheary brothers – James and Dominic – had ever been CPM members. Nor had we ever been able to control them. Unquestionably we tried, as we did with many other aspiring politicians of the time.

Thus, contrary to what Mr Gafoor said, Chin Peng wasn’t cagey but clear and definitive when he stated that the CPM did not control Barisan.

Mr Gafoor was wrong to assume that CPM’s influence on Barisan meant there were commnuists in the Barisan or there were CPM proxies in the Barisan central executive committee. Lee Kuan Yew had been influenced by Alex Josey, Jawaharlal Nehru and Professor H.J. Eysenck even though none of them were ever PAP members or in the PAP central executive committee.

I do not know why he did that. But he was influenced by Alex Josey, who came from the Middle East where he had been a reporter. Josey fed him ideas about the Muslims. The “Mad Mullahs.” The “Ultras.” Lee used the term, “Mad Mullahs.” This was Alex Josey’s phrase. Alex Josey was his close friend, golfing friend and biographer.

[Dr Toh Chin Chye referring to Lee Kuan Yew being influenced by Alex Josey during an interview published in ‘Leaders of Singapore’ by Melanie Chew in 1996]

In the early years of his political career, Lee was profoundly influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru.


Lee Kuan Yew believes in eugenics. Among others, he has been influenced by Professor H.J. Eysenck, an expert on measuring intelligence who visited Singapore in 1987.


On the contrary, Chin Peng stated categorically that prominent opposition figures like Dr Lee Siew Chor and the Puthucheary brothers were never CPM members and that tried as they did, they could not control the great many aspiring politicians then.

If CPM could not control the great many aspiring politicians then, how could those aspiring politicians have been communists? In fact, why would CPM need to try so hard to control the many aspiring politicians then if they were already communists?

The CPM’s inability to control the great many politicians then suggests instead that CPM’s influence was limited. Many historians support the notion that Barisan was neither communist nor communist controlled:

‘the MCP did not exercise the control over its fellow-travelers that it sought’, ‘the very idea of a “Communist United Front” is perhaps a misnomer’ as ‘most of the groups caught up in leftist popular radicalism … were neither communist, united, nor a front for anybody but themselves’ and the equating of disorder on the peninsula as a “Communist plot’ was ultimately made only as ‘a leap of faith’.

Harper … concluded that ‘hard evidence is hard to find’ about Singapore left’s complicity with the Communist underground. While some colonial officials had strong reservations, others made the leap based merely on circumstantial evidence. The failed MCP armed uprising, its retreat into deep jungle bases, the demise of the Anti-British League, and the work of colonial intelligence, infiltrators and agents provocateurs meant that ‘the MCP’s influence on the radical politics of Singapore in the late 1950s and early 1960s was, if anything, weaker than it had been between 1945 and 1951′.

Harper devoted considerable attention to ‘authoritative new archival research’ which suggested that Lee had been manoeuvring intensely to wield detention power from behind the scene and letting the British and Kuala Lumpur authorities take the blame for the suppression. British officials, including William Goode, Philip Moore and Lord Selkirk, had expressed strong reservations about Lee’s approach. The United Kingdom Commission in Singapore had even ‘attempted to stall and block these arrests’. Lord Selkirk had warned his superior that ‘Tunku’s and Lee’s respective bids for 25 and 250 arrests in July 1962′ were moves against their political opposition for which the British were to take the blame. Most strikingly, Selkirk assessed that Lee was ‘probably very much attracted to the idea of destroying his political opponents. It should be remembered that there is behind all this a very personal aspect … he claims he wishes to put back in detention the very people … with whom there is strong sense of political rivalry which transcends ideological differences’. However, such internal British reservations were rendered redundant by the momentum of decolonisation and the larger considerations of the Whitehall and British officials in the Federation of Malaya, as well as by Tunku’s pressure. Operation Cold Store was eventually launched on 2 February 1963, but subsequent British internal assessment had to admit that ‘the interrogations have so far produced little new evidence about the Communist conspiracy’.

[The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts, Lysa Hong and Huang Jianli, page 148]

In spite of intensive investigations, no evidence has been obtained of C.P.M. directions to open United Front workers as to how they should carry out their activities.

As the scope of the United Front widens to include a major element of the trade unions, as well as peasant and student organisations, it must become increasingly difficult, if not impossible for a secret caucus of Party members (assuming that such exists) to control all its ramifications and direct all its activities.

If they were indeed doing this successfully, it is inconceivable that Special Branch investigations would have failed to yield any evidence of such control and direction.

It is far more likely (as was envisaged by the Party themselves in the October Resolutions of 1951) that the “United Front” represents an amalgam of different and conflicting interests, individual ambitions, industrial grievances, Chinese nationalism, housing problems of the peasant population and educational frustration of the students.

At present they are united only in their dissatisfactions with the P.A.P. Government, and they cannot be considered to form a monolithic Communist edifice under strict Party management


… it is important to note that even though some Leftist members of the CEC were associate with the MCP, their actions were not directed by the Party. Their aggressive push for power grew from local frustrations and not from any sort of strategic planning or instructions … it seems that even at this senior level, the Party was unable to keep control of events … since 1956, the MCP had considered the Singapore operations as a whole to be overly ‘left’ and too militant and had criticised the 13 May 1954 riot and the May 1955 Hock Lee Bus riot as overly ‘left’. A directive … reached Singapore in late 1956 urging moderation, but the political situation in Singapore was moving faster than the courier communication system. Isolated directives arriving months after the events … had little impact on the ground

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 65]

Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 1 (Selkirk & Moore)

December 23, 2014

I refer to excerpts from the 19 Dec 2014 Straits Times column “A ferocious struggle for Singapore’s future” by Singapore’s High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor.

Dr Thum did not omit mention of ‘incriminating’ information

Contrary to Mr Gafoor’s claims, Dr Thum Ping Tjin did not conveniently omit mention of ‘incriminating’ information from British National Archives. Dr Thum referred to the same ‘incriminating’ information that Mr Gafoor referred to when he specifically wrote in his Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 211 – The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”, Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia:

Selkirk spent the bulk of his four-page telegram to Sandys explaining that it was now impossible to deny the Federation the arrests they so badly craved without jeopardising merger. In six lines, Selkirk added that recent intelligence demonstrated communist control of the Barisan, and that Lim had never explicitly ruled out violent action.

The evidence which Selkirk cited was accounts of two post-referendum Barisan meetings. Barisan members had complained that the constitution was pointless if it was so easily manipulated, asking if there was another way forward. Selkirk chose to interpret these as calls to abandon constitutional action, and disregarded their unanimous agreement to keep following peaceful constitutional action. Selkirk’s assertion that Lim never ruled out violent action was based on Lim’s statement that ‘so long as the conditions for peaceful constitutional struggle remain available to us, we will persist in the peaceful constitutional method of struggle,’ …

Thus, Dr Thum not only referred to the same ‘incriminating’ information, he also explained why Selkirk had been wrong on that occasion.

Mr Gafor omitted mention of pressure from the Malayan government for the arrests

Mr Gafor’s so-called holistic reading of declassified documents isn’t so holistic after all. He omitted to mention the Malayan Government’s pressing for the arrest of Singapore Leftists as a pre-condition for merger. The British had in fact already agreed to the arrests prior to Singapore’s merger referendum on 1 Sept 1962 and certainly prior to Mr Gafor’s so-called incriminating information about Barisan’s post referendum meetings.

… the Tunku’s wish to see an arrest programme carried out before merger, and Lee Kuan Yew’s desire for concessions over the status of Singapore citizens within Malaysia if his referendum campaign were to receive a much needed boost … The possibility of linking the various issues had, in fact, already been raised by Selkirk with the Prime Minister in mid-May 1962, where the former had mentioned that to secure agreement on the practical aspects of Malaysia, ‘we might have to be prepared to exercise some pressure’ … The Tunku might indeed offer to accept the Cobbold report if he were allowed to lock up all the extremist opposition in Singapore. Lord Selkirk hoped that this bargain would not be put to us as it woud be a difficult one. The outlines of a deal were already apparent: if the British could satisfy the Tunku with an ISC-sanctioned arrest programme before merger then the Tunku might be prepared to be more forthcoming over the terms of federation with the Borneo territories.

That Singapore questions would assume great importance during the London talks was shown by the preliminary meetings held at Admiralty House between the Tunku and Macmillan immediately after the former’s arrival on 17 Jul 1962. As had been anticipated, the Tunku began by pressing the British to ‘clean up’ the Communists in the colony before the new federation was formed, arguing that, ‘In order to get a good result in the referendum [Lee Kuan Yew] needed a good press and the suppression of the communists.

… Putting forward their own requirements on 18 July, the Malayans called for unanimity on the ISC over plans to detain Communists and their sympathizers (starting with 25 members of the Barisan) after the Singapore referendum, but before merger …

… with the British needing every bargaining instrument that they could find to move the talks forward, it began to look increasingly likely that acquiescence in a round-up of the opposition in Singapore would be forthcoming.

Strenuous opposition to any such concession came from the local British officials who would have to implement such a measure, Philip Moore maintaining, ‘It seems to us plain foolishness to decide upon repressive action in Singapore. Doubting that the leading figures in the Barisan were actually engaged in subversion or were the ‘compliant tool of Peking or Moscow’, Moore wanted to ‘stress again that in Singapore today we have a political and not a security problem. We know who most of the portential subversives are and they could easily be gathered in at any time they seemed to threaten the security of the state.’ Moore’s main concern was that ‘to arrest leading members of the main Opposition party without adequate cause’ would merely help to intensify anti-Malaysia feeling and unite opponents of the PAP. In a similar fashion, Selkirk informed Sandys on 27 July that an arrest programme would be a dangerous move and was only likely to provoke more trouble …de Zulueta reported … the British offering to go ahead with the Singapore arrests in order to clinch the whole deal.

… In an oblique reference, Macmillan was also recorded as saying, “It would also be helpful if the question of dangerous Communists in Singapore would be deferred until after the [UK] Parliamentary discussions. The meaning of this remark was soon to become apparent.

… With Lee then putting forward proposals for a post-referendum arrest programme, Sandys duly indicated that previous British resistance on the ISC to such action would be lifted, though … he carefully phrased his comments to suggest that … individual cases would need to be considered on their merits.

The agreement made by the Tunku in London over the citizenship question, for which the British had assented to an arrest programme, paved the way for the staging of the referendum on merger in Singapore.

[Conflict and Confrontation in South East Asia 1961-1965, Matthew Jones, page 89-93]

Thus, Operation Coldstore was already a done deal between the British, the Tunku and Lee Kuan Yew even before Mr Gafor’s so-called incriminating Barisan meeting. The so-called incriminating Barisan meeting wasn’t the raison d’état for Operation Coldstore although it could have served a pretext purpose.

Mr Gafor failed to explain significance of Brunei revolt

As ‘incriminating’ as Barisan’s September 1962 meetings had been, the British and the PAP didn’t make a move to launch Operation Coldstore but waited instead for a better pretext to surface. That better pretext appeared in the form of the Brunei revolt in December 1962 which Mr Gafor briefly mentioned but did not explain its significance. The inability of the British and the PAP to launch Operation Coldstore on the premise of the ‘incriminating’ Barisan meetings of September 1962 shows just how ‘incriminating’ or not they are.

Moreover, Lord Selkirk would eventually be disappointed that subsequent interrogations yielded little credible evidence of Barisan involvement in the Brunei revolt. In other words, the pretext for Operation Coldstore had been false.

The Brunei revolt was also regarded by Lee Kuan Yew, and by the Malayan Government, as convenient cover for the implementation of the arrest programme in Singapore that had been devised by Special Branch officers in the spring of 1962, and discussed with British ministers during the London talks in July. Events in Brunei had done little to inspire Malayan confidence in British willingness to act decisively to forestall an imminent threat, but they now expected measures to be taken against the political opposition in Singapore. When it became clear that Azahari had met with Lim Chin Siong, the Barisan chairman, in Singapore just prior to the revolt on 3 December, Lee considered it a ‘heaven-sent’ opportunity of justifying action’. Nevertheless, the key local officials on the British side, Selkirk and Moore, were deeply reluctant to authorize any large-scale round-up of Barisan leaders and other alleged subversives, despite the tacit understanding previously reached by the Tunku, Lee and Sandys in London.

The Malayan Government had by now come to regard an arrest programme as an essential pre-condition for merger with Singapore, hoping that responsibility for unpopular and tough measures would be taken by Lee and the British rather than themselves once Malaysia was formed. With the Singapore Special Branch able to present new evidence of Communist penetration and control of the Barisan, combined with the alarming events in Brunei, Selkirk faced heavy pressure to drop his previous resistance on the ISC to carrying out arrests. In a telegram of 12 December given personal approval by the Prime Minister, Sandys informed Selkirk: ‘As you know I have all along been reluctant to give blanket approval in advance for arrests of subversive elements in Singapore. But if we are to avoid a dangerous disagreement with the Malayan Government we shall have to take some action of this kind before merger.’ Sandys felt that ‘we should move at once’ with the Brunei revolt providing the ‘best possible background against which to take this action’. The following day the ISC met, and with Selkirk’s agreement given the new evidence produced on the links between Azahari and the Barisan leaders, decided on a series of arrests to begin on 16 December. However, the operation collapsed at the very last minute, when Lee Kuan Yew added several names to the arrest list (including those of anti-Malaysia members of the Malayan Federal Assembly in Kuala Lumpur) prompting the Federation’s representative on the ISC to withdraw amid protests and recriminations.

Another meeting of the ISC was scheduled for 1 February 1963, and frantic efforts were made by the British to remount Operation Cold Store, as the arrest programme was dubbed. Despite Selkirk’s fresh reservations over the names that now appeared on the lists agreed to by Lee and Federation ministers, Sandys issued a terse instruction to the British Commissioner that there was no alternative but to accept majority opinion on the ISC and vote for a unanimous decision. Selkirk acquiesced, and on 2 February, 111 suspects in Singapore and Malaya (including 24 members of the Barisan) were taken into detention.

[Conflict and Confrontation in South East Asia 1961-1965, Matthew Jones, page 117]

Operation Cold Store detained 113 left-wing political leaders and trade unionists, including Lim. Subsequent British investigations found little evidence of Barisan involvement in the Brunei plot, but the detentions decimated the left.

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr, Carl A. Trock]

Two months after the arrests, however, Sellkirk was disappointed that no new evidence was forthcoming on the connection between the Barisan and the Brunei Revolt, with the only “embarrassing” new point suggesting that the party had been resisting Azahari’s overtures to give more militant support to the rebels. What emerges from these various sources is a solidifying picture of difficult but ultimately unsatisfactory agreements on the arrests …

[The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, Edgar Liao and Cheng Tju Lim and Guo Quan Seng, page 198]

On 8 December 1962, a leftist rebellion by the self-proclaimed North Borneo National Army broke out in Brunei; two days before, Lim (Chin Siong) had had lunch in the restaurant of Singapore’s aptly named Rendezvous Hotel with Sheik A. M. Azahari, the leading Bunei leftist susequently accused of masterminding the revolt.

It was enough to satisfy the British; yet such was the continued wrangling on the Internal Security Council that it took nearly two months – during which an initial launch of the operation planned for 16 December had to be aborted the night before – for all parties to commit to action. Immediately following the arrests, the Internal Security Council announced that Special Branch had uncovered a plot to make Singapore a ‘Communist Cuba’ – full details would follow. But despite weeks of interrogations, strong evidence to substantiate this claim failed to materialise. Toh Chin Chye later described the political detainees who remained in prison after 1959 as ‘a sacrifice to Merger’ …

[Singapore A Biography, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasinghamchow, page 406]

Tunku believed Lee Kuan Yew used Operation Coldstore to eliminate opposition

Such was the lack of a clear conscionable purpose that even the Tunku believed that Operation Coldstore was being used by Lee Kuan Yew to get rid of opposition in parliament.

‘Operation Coldstore’, as it was called, had been planned for some time. But for months before it commenced, the Internal security Council, on which the Malayan government was represented along with Britain and Singapore, argued over the extent of the arrests and their timing. Memoirs and top-secret diplomatic correspondence reveal the mutual suspicions that hung over these meetings. The Tungku believed Singapore’s Prime Minister wanted to use the operation to remove his entire parliamentary opposition; Lee was wary of the Tunku not taking equal responsibility for the arrests; meanwhile the British wanted the left-wing movement in Singapore smashed but, so as to give their actions at least a semblance of ‘fair play’, they awaited some clear pretext for doing so.

[Singapore A Biography, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasinghamchow, page 405-406]

Declassified documents dismiss Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘Battle for Merger’

Mr Gafor also failed to mention that the same declassified document that he quoted from also revealed Deputy UK Commissioner to Singapore Philip Moore dismissing Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘Batte for Merger’ as circumstantial, stale and nothing very definite:

But unless one was prepared to accept uncritically the evidence supplied by Lee Kuan Yew in his “Battle for Merger”, there was nothing very definite to go on apart from circumstantial evidence and stale security records.


Mr Gafor’s fervent accusations of Dr Thum Ping Tjin and others have backfired on himself. It turns out that it is Mr Gafor himself who hasn’t read declassified information holistically and who has omitted critical pieces of information.

A more holistic reading of declassified materials than the one by Mr Gafor will reveal that Operation Coldstore was a political, not a security decision proposed by Lee Kuan Yew, insisted by the Tunku and agreed by the British even before Mr Gafor’s so-called ‘incriminating’ information about communist penetration into Barisan. Communist penetration into Barisan, even if it had been true, was at best a pretext and not the reason for Operation Coldstore.

Straits Times, Excerpts from “A ferocious struggle for Singapore’s future”, 19 Dec 2014

This is a response from High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor to an article by former Barisan Sosialis assistant secretary-general Poh Soo Kai.


Dr Poh and other revisionists like Dr Thum Ping Tjin have alleged that Operation Coldstore was a political exercise meant to suppress what they claim to be legitimate, presumably peaceful, democratic opponents of the PAP government. 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 revisionists conveniently omit mention of the incriminating information in these documents. For example, they quote selectively some of then UK Commissioner to Singapore Lord Selkirk’s remarks to claim that Operation Coldstore was an act of political suppression with no security basis. But a holistic reading of all the documents debunks their accounts. The documents reveal that both Lord Selkirk and his deputy Philip Moore were concerned about the extent to which the CPM had penetrated the Barisan and had concluded that security action was imperative. Indeed, about two months before Operation Coldstore was carried out, they had begun to urge strenuously that action be taken.

The UK Deputy Commissioner in Singapore at that time, Philip Moore, made a perceptive observation that would apply to those who now feign ignorance or deny knowledge of communist control and influence over the Barisan and other CUF organisations. Reporting to London in December 1962, Moore noted that “knowing what we now do about the extent of Communist penetration within Barisan Sosialis, it will be more difficult to acquit many of the other leading members as unwitting dupes”.

Moore was referring to two reports of meetings at Barisan HQ that he described as “of considerable importance not only for what they reveal of the future intentions of Barisan Sosialis, but they provide more conclusive evidence than we have had hitherto for the belief that Barisan Sosialis are Communist-controlled”.

“It has never been disputed,” he notes, “that the Communists in Singapore are following United Front tactics and that Barisan Sosialis is their principal instrument on the political front… The report on the first of the two (Barisan) meetings shows that those engaging in the discussion were Communists examining quite frankly how best to achieve their ends. Furthermore, we can see that the Communist influence within Barisan Sosialis is not confined to the Central Executive Committee but extends to Branch Committee level…”.

Moore’s superior, Lord Selkirk, concurred with this judgment. A week later, on Dec 14, 1962, after the Brunei rebellion, Lord Selkirk sent a dispatch stating: “I said I had recognised all along that a threat was presented by the communists in Singapore. I had not however previously been convinced that a large number of arrests were necessary to counter this threat. Recently, however, new evidence had been produced about the extent of the communist control of the Barisan Sosialis and also there had been indications that the communists might resort to violence if the opportunity occurred. Recent statements by the Barisan Sosialis and Party Rakyat supporting the revolt in Brunei confirmed this.”

Two weeks later, Lord Selkirk sent another dispatch stating “it would be wise to make arrests of communists in Singapore as soon as possible”.

Contraries to what PM Lee said

December 15, 2014

I refer to the 10 Dec 2014 Straits Times report “Rallying party for next GE”.

Contrary to what PM Lee said, the PAP doesn’t always deal with the problems they face. More often than not, they conveniently explain problems away. They don’t lie low, they lie.
Their so called settle now is to give excuses. Instead of hoping that the public forgets the problem, they hope the public remembers their excuses.

For example, between 2007 and 2011, the public could obviously see housing prices running out of control. But PAP kept explaining the problem away. First they insisted it was the natural outcome of demand and supply which the government had no control over. Then they rationalized it wasn’t a problem at all and that correcting it was tantamount to robbing from state reserves. But immediately after the election setback of 2011, suddenly both housing demand and supply can be controlled, with measure after measure to rein in both demand and supply. Discounts to new flats were also increased, never mind it reduced already heavy inflows to state reserves. That’s how the PAP operates; explain problems away first rather than solve them first.

Contrary to what PM Lee said, PAP doesn’t behave as though it owes people responsibility. Instead, it behaves as though people owe them our First World status despite the fact that Singapore was already very prosperous as a British Crown Colony and became more so under the economic plan written by Dr Albert Winsemius.

Contrary to what PM Lee said, PAP is neither transparent nor accountable. It continues to hide behind the safety of state controlled media that shield it from answering really tough questions that transparency and accountability calls for.

PM Lee knows no shame when he asked other political parties to measure up to PAP’s lowly standards. It is not up to PM Lee but Singaporeans to decide who is up to the mark and who falls short. Neither PM Lee nor the PAP sets the mark. PM Lee’s own mark is less than half past six (60.5%).

Straits Times, Rallying party for next GE, 10 Dec 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at the PAP rally on Sunday, touched on these topics:


“We will reinforce the team further in the next General Election. We have already identified many promising candidates, including a few potential office holders. Some from the private sector; some in the government; quite a number from the activists, from the grassroots, men, women, different age groups, different races. A good representation of Singapore and the way Singapore’s leadership should be.

Of course, the elections are still a bit off yet and we have not stopped and will not stop looking for good men and women who can join us. So, after the next General Election, with the support of the voters, I will have a renewed, strengthened and more seasoned team of MPs, and of ministers.

Whoever will succeed me as Secretary-General and Prime Minister, will most likely be amongst the PAP MPs elected in the next General Election….Well before the end of next term, I am confident we will have a younger, passionate and capable team, ready to take over the reins”.


“When we face problems, we acknowledge them publicly and deal with them. We do not pretend there is no problem – no comment, studying the matter, thinking about it, we’ll clarify one day. We settle now! You lie low, hoping the public will forget the issue and the issue will go away and the public will forget you, and you might as well go away.

Because we are the People’s Action Party, we owe a responsibility to the people, to be honest, to be transparent, and to be accountable. In fact, it is our responsibility to set the standard that other political parties in Singapore should be measured by and should aim for. I cannot tell them what they should aim for, but I can tell you who is up to the mark and who falls short. And we have to set that mark.”


“This is democracy. People are entitled to try. It is the way the system works or is supposed to work. But for democracy to really, truly work in Singapore, the PAP also must fight, and fight to win the battle. Because if the other side fights and we sit down and we are good guys and nice and friendly to everyone, I think we deserve to lose. We are friendly, yes. To win, we must fight for what we believe in. If you get flamed, so what? I have the thickest skin in town and if you are doing the right thing and if 10,000 people go against you, proceed. We are charging in the right direction.”

Next General Election will not be a fight to see who forms government

December 14, 2014

I refer to the 8 Dec 2014 Straits Times report “Next General Election will be a fight to see who forms government: PM Lee”.

Was PM Lee trying to pull a fast one when he said the next general election is about who forms the government? Even Mr Ho Kwong Ping who delivered the first two Institute of Policy Study lectures said it was unlikely that PAP’s dominance can be challenged in the next 15 years.

What did PM Lee mean when he said the next general election is going to be a deadly serious fight? Was he implying that previous general elections were play play only?

PM Lee can try to frame his next election campaign around a First World government all he wants but that will not extinguish the people’s yearning for a First World parliament. The people has come to appreciate what PM Lee’s supposed First World government is – a government of self praise that is no praise. The people are gradually coming to realise that without a First World parliament, their welfare and their children’s future cannot be safeguarded despite PM Lee’s so-called First World government.

PM Lee can try to frame every contest as a national one, not a local one. But he should not forget that the Workers’ Party won Aljunied without significant local issues to capitalize on, without the by-election effect. Instead, Workers’ Party won Aljunied on the back of national, not local issues.

PM Lee is mistaken if he thinks that the people will identify with his motherhood vision statements about a fair and inclusive society. PAP’s motherhood statements cannot change the people’s daily encounters with the realities of societal unfairness and exclusion.

PM Lee is deluding himself if he thinks that only PAP solves problems. PAP creates more problems than it solves while the people are largely left to solving for themselves whatever problems PAP has created. After all, isn’t it the PAP’s mantra all these years that the people must be self-reliant as encapsulated in one of its all time classic phrases “Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant”?

PM Lee’s vision and road map is meaningless to the average man on the street. The average man on the street cannot see vision statements as anything beyond meaningless motherhood statements. They see bread, butter, roof and cash better.

PM Lee should quit fooling himself; he does not have the thickest skin but the thinnest skin in town for over reacting to a blog that the common man on the street couldn’t care less about.

Straits Times, Next General Election will be a fight to see who forms government: PM Lee, 8 Dec 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore’s next General Election (GE) will be about who forms the government to implement policies to take the country forward.

“The next GE is going to be a deadly serious fight,” Mr Lee told 6,000 members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) yesterday at its 60th anniversary rally at the Singapore Expo.

“It will be about whether we continue to have a First World Government, not about the so-called First World Parliament,” he said, alluding to the Workers’ Party’s (WP’s) GE 2011 slogan.

“Every seat, every contest will be a national one, not a local one,” he said in a rousing hour- long speech in Malay, Mandarin and English. What will be at stake in every constituency will be who gets to form the government, rather than the by-election effect often used by the opposition to secure more seats, he argued.

The next election must be held by January 2017, and Mr Lee said it would be about choosing a “clear vision” and “capable leadership” for the nation. “It is not just about expressing approval or disapproval, it is not just about winning a seat in Parliament, it is not a by-election,” he said.

The party, he said, would fight to win every seat – and this included WP-held Aljunied GRC, Hougang and Punggol East.

Going on the offensive against opposition parties, Mr Lee accused them of offering no vision for Singapore, even as he outlined the PAP’s updated objectives for an inclusive and fair nation with citizens who are hard-working and actively engaged.

These goals, adopted as a resolution during the party’s convention last year, were crystallised in the party’s Constitution yesterday. It was the first amendment to the Constitution in 32 years.

The change cements the PAP’s shift in governance over the past decade towards more communication with the public and stronger social support, said Mr Lee, the party’s secretary-general.

Noting that the PAP is the only party offering a national vision, he said: “Only the PAP is solving problems, planning for the future. Only the PAP is putting forth a vision, a road map for Singapore.”

Meanwhile, he urged PAP activists to stand up for their ideas, even if they are criticised. Telling them to have courage, he quipped: “If I get flamed, so what; I have the thickest skin in town.”

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh noted that the WP had fought on a platform of being the PAP’s check and balance in the last GE.

“The challenge seems to be whether it can do the local part well,” she added, referring to recent hitches in the WP’s management of its town council.

The PAP also held elections for its central executive committee yesterday, for what is likely to be the last time before the GE.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin made it into the committee’s top 12, replacing Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. Dr Ng was co-opted into the committee with Speaker Halimah Yacob, as the two nominees with the next highest number of votes.

For the next GE, the PAP has identified “many promising candidates”, including potential office-holders, Mr Lee said, adding that his successor is likely to be in the “renewed, strengthened and more seasoned” team that will be in place after the next polls.

Not enough checks yet to cause checkmate

December 13, 2014

I refer to the 8 Dec 2014 Straits Times report “Too many checks ‘will lead to checkmate'”.

PM Lee is wrong to say that the opposition does not see its duty to solve the nation’s problems or plan for the future:

• The Singapore Democratic Party launched its national housing plan and national healthcare plan in Nov 2012 and Jan this year respectively to solve our nation’s housing and healthcare problems respectively.

• Both Workers Party and the National Solidarity Party launched their papers and plans for a sustainable population in 2013 to solve population problems caused by the PAP.

• The Reform Party launched its 5 year master plan in 2011 to plan for a brighter future in 2016

PM Lee should not see the checker in parliament as negating the efforts of the government doer, thinker or leader. Conversely, parliament checkers help the government doer do the right thing; they help the government thinker crystallize his or her thoughts better, they help the government leader lead better. The checker has, after all, always served the utmost important role of being the last stop in the line.

PM Lee cannot say there are lots of checkers in parliament when only 10 MPs are active checkers (WP + SPP) while close to 80 are sleeping or absent checkers (PAP). If PM Lee discount the 80 sleeping or absent checkers, he will find there aren’t so many checkers around to cause gridlock or checkmate.

But from time to time, these 80 sleeping or absent checkers can spring into action and become counter checkers. With 80 counter checkers against 10 active checkers, the odds are firmly in PM Lee’s favour. What has PM Lee to fear? Are PM Lee’s policies so flimsy, so indefensible, so easily checkable that it cannot prevail despite an 8 to 1 odd?

No reasonable person will believe that PAP will be checkmated in the coming election. In a recent public lecture, Mr Ho Kwong Ping made the point that PAP won’t be checkmated in the next 15 years. Would Seoul give PM Lee honorary citizenship if it thinks PM Lee’s government is about to be checkmated? The most likely reason why PM Lee would warn against PAP being checkmated is to scare the sizeable electoral middle ground which happens to be the most gullible also.

The opposition asks the PAP to do more because the PAP isn’t doing enough.

Almost every year, the PAP takes from the country billions of dollars more than it spends on it. The money for doing more can come from the billions more that the PAP takes from the country every year.

There is no need for PM Lee to take issue with the opposition over the lack of vision statements which tend to be useless motherhood statements anyway. For example, PAP’s vision of a Swiss Standard of Living quickly turned out to be a household joke. Singaporeans don’t need and don’t care about useless motherhood vision statements.

PM Lee should understand that government surpluses that helped fund the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package did not come from his own pocket but from the pockets of Singaporeans. The spike in housing prices meant that Singaporeans paid more for housing that ultimately went into government surpluses. The availability of vast amounts of cheap CPF funds also helped fuel government investments that helped earn extra surpluses. PM Lee cannot take credit for the surpluses that ultimately came from the people. In spiking housing prices, PAP is ultimately mortgaging our children’s future to win votes because our children will be paying even more in future for ever smaller living spaces.

PM Lee doesn’t know what First World parliament is because he has never been part of one. By the time he was inducted into politics, Singapore parliament has already degenerated into Third World status. PM Lee should not shamelessly associate himself with our achievement of First World nation status but should instead acknowledge that Singapore didn’t progress to First World status under his watch but under the watch of his predecessors.

PM Lee should correct his mistaken notion that PAP also fighting means democracy will truly work in Singapore. More importantly, PAP must fight fairly and squarely in order for Singapore democracy to truly work. PAP fighting with unfair, self-assigned advantages is insulting and contemptuous to Singapore democracy.

PM Lee should quit being hypocritical. Since when in PAP’s history has it ever been the good, nice, friendly guy? Would nice guys lock up opponents for 30 over years without the permission of the courts?

Straits Times, Too many checks ‘will lead to checkmate’, 8 Dec 2014

Singapore’s opposition parties do not see it as their duty to solve the nation’s problems and plan for the future, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Instead, their main campaigning platform is to act as a “check” on the ruling party, he said at a People’s Action Party (PAP) rally held after the party’s biennial conference yesterday.

But for every “checker” in Parliament, there will be one fewer “doer, thinker and leader” in the government, said Mr Lee, who is the PAP’s secretary-general.

“You will have a lot of checkers, you have no workers… There will be gridlock, like in other countries,” he said.

Singapore’s opposition parties do not see it as their duty to solve the nation’s problems and plan for the future, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. — ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
“Eventually, there will be no PAP to check… That will be the last check, because it will be checkmate for Singapore.”

In a speech that pulled no punches in criticising the opposition, Mr Lee said that every time the PAP Government puts out a popular policy, opposition politicians respond: “Do more.”

But they fail to suggest where the money will come from, or “who are you going to ‘take from’ in order to ‘give more’ “, he said.

Mr Lee also chided opposition politicians for not putting forth a vision for Singapore, saying it is “because they are trying to avoid answering hard questions”.

The PAP, on the other hand, delivers on its promises and thinks long term, he added. Citing the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, which was funded from the surpluses of a single term of government rather than future taxes, he said the ruling party will not “mortgage your children’s future to win your votes”.

Taking a jab at the 2011 election slogan of the Workers’ Party (WP) – the biggest opposition party in Parliament – Mr Lee said: “When other people say First World Parliament, we don’t know what it means.” He added to loud cheers: “But when we say First World Nation – here we are.”

Yesterday, Mr Lee also urged PAP activists to greater action in the lead-up to the next general election (GE), especially in opposition-held wards.

The WP currently controls Aljunied GRC, Hougang and Punggol East – the biggest opposition haul since independence.

Mr Lee said that in June, he visited several thousand Aljunied residents, who gave him a rousing welcome. Pledging to win the opposition constituencies back, he said: “It may take some time, but we will not give up trying and, one day, we will succeed.”

He pointed to the example of PAP MP Sitoh Yih Pin, who wrested Potong Pasir back from the opposition on his third try.

Madam Normah Ahmad, 62, a Kaki Bukit activist, agreed: “We should try to win back Aljunied, slowly, if we have to. It is a hard fight, but I think we can.”

Activists must also toughen up for the next GE, Mr Lee said.

“For democracy really, truly to work in Singapore, the PAP also must fight, and fight to win the battle,” he said. “Because if we sit down and we are good guys and nice and friendly to everybody, I think we deserve to lose.”

Mr Jacky Foo, stop pandering to your political pay masters’ editorial tastes

December 7, 2014

Dear Wall Street Journal Editor,

I refer to the 2 Dec 2014 Wall Street Journal letter “Singapore’s Current Reality” by Singapore’s consulate-general to Hong Kong, Mr Jacky Foo.

Contrary to what Mr Foo says, Dr Chee’s arguments are rooted in a sense of reality that Singaporeans are slowly but surely coming to grips with despite our 150th ranked state controlled press.

Singapore’s inequality hasn’t merely increased; Singapore has always been one of three most unequal societies amongst First World economies over the past 30 years alongside Hong Kong and USA.

Which First World nation doesn’t have high quality education for the low income? Universal education is taken for granted not only amongst rich nations, but amongst many poor countries too.

Whether Singapore offers high quality health care to the low income is questionable. The high cost of healthcare in Singapore has driven the low income to commit suicide to avoid incurring hefty hospital bills that they cannot afford to pay.

Singapore public housing less affordable than private housing elsewhere

Singapore’s public housing can be more expensive than private housing elsewhere. Newly launched public housing can have a price to income ratio 4.8 which is close to what World Bank considers as unaffordable.

This is almost equivalent to the price to income ratios of private housing in Western countries.
[10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2014, page 10, figure 1]

Housing affordability

No true home ownership

There is no true home ownership in as far as Singapore’s public housing is concerned because the homes are leased to the people for 99 years and in all public housing agreements, the people who supposedly own those houses are referred to as “lessees”.

False claim that $1,000 can buy apartment

The notion that Singapore families earning just SGD $1,000 a month can afford a two-room apartment is a fallacy that Mr Foo is repeating after his political paymasters.

Firstly, public assistance for a family of three in Singapore is $990 a month ( This is the minimum level of sustenance that a family of three in Singapore needs to survive. So a family earning just $1,000 a month has only $10 to spare after paying for their daily living expenses (assuming only one child). How can this family afford monthly mortgage payments with just $10 to spare?

Secondly, the so-called two-room apartment actually has one bed room only, the other room being the living room. It is typically 45 square meters ( which is only the size of a studio apartment that the entire family has to squeeze into.

Thirdly, Singapore families with such low salaries will end up with no savings whatsoever after paying for apartment mortgages and daily expenses. These poor families will end up having to sell their small apartments at old age to fund retirement needs leaving them with no apartment at the end of the day.

So bottom quintile households that supposedly own their homes will eventually have to give up their homes at old age to unlock their retirement money. The government is fully aware of this problem because it is now actively helping these poor families to monetize their homes. The government should therefore know very well that bottom quintile households will eventually lose the homes they own when they retire and not trumpet the false hope of home ownership.


Contrary to what Mr Foo said, independent financial experts like Mr Leong Sze Hian has time and again shown that real wage growth of the low income has been negative for quite some time already.

The only thing in Singapore that has no parallel in other countries is the amount of bullshit we have on official media.

Mr Foo should not refer to ‘our’ model as being not perfect. The far from perfect model is the ruling party’s model which more and more Singaporeans are beginning to understand and reject.

It is Mr Foo, not Dr Chee who is being dishonest for putting words like “fail” into Dr Chee’s mouth when Dr Chee never once used the word in his article. Dr Chee merely highlighted the issues blighting our nation and expressed his hopes for a better Singapore. It is only in uniquely Singapore that expression of the truth can be construed as dishonesty and vice versa.

Mr Foo selectively chooses more successful government linked companies to make his case while ignoring other languishing companies like Neptune Orient Lines which has been making losses. He also omits to mention government linked companies that survive mainly on generous government contracts or thrive on government protection like the Singapore Press Holdings.

How can Mr Foo accuse Dr Chee of not being interested in facts when Dr Chee used facts like the government paying women to undergo tubal ligation in the 1970s and is now giving tax incentives for couples to have more babies and also paying children to demonstrate strong character?

How can Mr Foo accuse Dr Chee of trimming his sails to the wind when Dr Chee has been consistently writing about both government linked companies and free trade agreements for years in his books?

Lack of democracy

Contrary to what Mr Foo says, Singapore lacks democracy despite having elections because we lack a free press. Our press is ranked 150th in the world – rock bottom. As many world leaders have said, there can be no democracy without a free press.

Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Democracy is impossible without freedom of the press, for freedom of the press is the basis of democracies.

Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland

A free press is a fundamental prerequisite in the implementation of democracy.

An Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern T.D., Prime Minister of Ireland

Freedom of the press is one of the rights that is fundamental to democracy. No country that systematically interferes with or restricts freedom can be considered fully democratic.

Yoshiro Mori, Former Prime Minister of Japan

The people’s Right to Know is a universal principle that secures democracy, and Freedom of the Press is the basic freedom that guarantees this right.

Wolfgang Schüssel, Federal Chancellor of Austria

Freedom of the press has remained the condition sine qua non of democracy ever since: every cultural and political development is based on freedom of opinion.

Thomas Jefferson

If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be

Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.

Information is the currency of democracy

Winston Churchill

A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. … Under dictatorship the press is bound to languish, and the loudspeaker and the film to become more important. But where free institutions are indigenous to the soil and men have the habit of liberty, the press will continue to be the Fourth Estate, the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.

Even our elections are not entirely free or fair. The ruling party implemented the GRC scheme that lumps several constituencies into one to be contested as one which raised the barrier of entry to political office. This is something that the ruling party has unabashedly admitted.

Mr Foo isn’t truthful when he claims that Singaporeans have rejected Dr Chee and his party. Typically, about 30% of Singaporeans vote for Dr Chee’s SDP during elections. Mr Foo cannot say that the 30% who votes for Dr Chee’s SDP rejects Dr Chee or the SDP.


Mr Foo would do better to take Singaporeans’ interest to heart, rather than pander to the editorial tastes of his political paymasters.

Wall Street Journal Online, Singapore’s Current Reality, 2 Dec 2014

Singapore’s consulate-general to Hong Kong responds to Chee Soon Juan’s Nov. 28 article.

In his op-ed last week (“A New Vision for Singapore”, Nov. 28), Chee Soon Juan rehashes old arguments without a sense of reality.

He takes issue with income inequality in Singapore. Indeed it has increased, as it has in many other countries. But in Singapore, the low-income have access to high-quality education, health care and public housing, like other citizens. Families earning just 1,000 Singapore dollars ($800) a month can afford to own a two-room apartment. Indeed, 80% of households in the bottom income quintile own their homes, with an average of more than S$200,000 net housing equity. Their wages have also grown by 10% (in real terms) in the past decade, unlike the stagnation often seen elsewhere. There is no parallel in other countries. Our model is not perfect, but it is dishonest of Mr. Chee to claim that it has failed, or that we have done nothing.

Mr. Chee criticizes government-linked companies. His charges are absurd. GLCs include highly successful, internationally renowned companies, such as Keppel, SembCorp and Singapore Airlines. They provide good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, but they make up just 10% of the economy. Privately owned small and medium-sized enterprises employ seven in 10 Singaporeans and enjoy the bulk of government support.

But Mr. Chee is not interested in facts. He is out to make a political case and trim his sails to the wind. When he writes in The Wall Street Journal, he attacks GLCs, but when he writes for the Huffington Post, he attacks free-trade agreements, in particular the U.S.-Singapore FTA.

Mr. Chee claims Singapore lacks a democracy. The reality is that elections in Singapore are free and fair. Every time Mr. Chee and his party have contested, Singaporeans have rejected them. He might do better to take the interest of Singaporeans to heart, rather than pander to the editorial tastes of the Western media.

Jacky Foo
Consulate-General of Singapore
Hong Kong

Not necessarily treason

December 6, 2014

I refer to the 14 Nov 2014 Straits Times letter “Joining ISIS is an act of treason” by Mr Matthew Ong Koon Lock.

ISIS is a globally condemned organization whose public beheading of captives goes beyond the moral tolerance of almost any culture or religion today. Most people would readily agree to condemning ISIS and arresting all who fight for ISIS.

However, in our eagerness to condemn ISIS, we must be careful not to jump to the conclusion that going to a foreign land to partake in an armed struggle in support of an ideology is necessarily an act of treason. The Christian crusades are the best examples of people from various nationalities going to war in a foreign land in support of an ideology that did not constitute treason. Even King Richard of England and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa joined in the crusades. Their peoples supported their respective king’s and emperor’s decision to join the crusade; they did not see their respective king or emperor as being treasonous.

There are many other examples of individuals going to a foreign land to partake in an armed struggle that does not constitute treason:

In Medieval Europe, serving as mercenary soldiers for a foreign power was a common job occupation that didn’t constitute treason. Historically, the Swiss guards have been one of the most respected, not treasonous of mercenary soldiers serving a multitude of European courts. The Swiss guards continue to protect the Vatican City today.

In both World Wars, American volunteers who served on the Allied side before America officially joined the war weren’t considered treasonous.

Many Gurkhas served as soldiers for the British army and fought in many British campaigns without being considered treasonous back home. Gurkhas continue to serve Singapore today.

Singaporean pioneers who served as Nanyang Volunteers for China during the Second World War weren’t considered treasonous too.

The above examples show that going to a foreign land to partake in an armed struggle cannot in and of itself constitute treason.

Our oath of allegiance to our country should not preclude our allegiance to our religion or culture. As long as our allegiance to our religion or culture is not in conflict with our allegiance to our country, we cannot be said to have committed treason.

Straits Times, Joining ISIS is an act of treason, 14 Nov 2014

SEVERAL governments have been trying to prevent their citizens from leaving the country to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

When a citizen decides to go to a foreign land to take part in an armed struggle in support of an ideology, this should be considered an act of treason.

As a Singapore citizen, I took an oath of allegiance to my country. If I went on to serve ISIS, would I not be breaking that oath? The appropriate penalty would be to strip me of my citizenship, and the onus would be on me to show why this should not be done.

Such a penalty will show potential ISIS volunteers that there are repercussions to their actions.

Upon returning to Singapore, these individuals should be arrested immediately for treason.

As for those claiming to go to Iraq or Syria as aid volunteers, why not require all such aid agencies to register with the local government and provide a letter indicating the named individual as a registered volunteer?

This means the Government has a responsibility to conduct due diligence on any aid agency to ensure its credibility. This includes meeting officials from the organisation, reviewing their published and audited financial statements, and working with them for a specified period before recognising them as a legitimate group.

There is also a need to check their registration and incorporation, and to do follow-up reviews to ensure donations are spent appropriately.

Matthew Ong Koon Lock

Refutting George Yeo

December 4, 2014

I refer to the 18 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “S’poreans ‘can weather calls for welfarism’”.

A good number of the wealthiest economies in the world are small, often smaller than Singapore. Macau, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Hong Kong are small wealthy economies without natural endowments. They all have nothing on ground, in land or underwater. Yet they are amongst the wealthiest in this world. It’s about time former minister George Yeo correct his mistaken notion that wealth must come from the ground, land or underwater.

Unfortunately for Singaporeans, the government’s balance isn’t between spending today and saving for the future as Mr Yeo puts it, but between spending and squandering on ill fated investments.

I refer too to excerpts from the 18 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “S’pore well placed to adapt to new world order: George Yeo”.

Considering that print media continues to be Singaporeans’ main source of news, the capacity to distort and to manipulate information lies mainly in the hands of print media.

Newspapers still dominate, but more readers go online: Survey

SINGAPORE – PRINT newspapers remain the staple source of news for most readers, with 68.4 per cent of people in Singapore reading a hard-copy local newspaper every day … It found that more than seven in 10 people in Singapore read newspapers daily, whether in print or online … And 85 per cent read them at least once a week … The Straits Times remains the most-read title, reaching around 34.3 per cent of the population every day … It was followed by Today, with 18.1 per cent readership … The Internet is used by 66.6 per cent of the population daily, up from 62.3 per cent last year …And 36 per cent read news online at least once a month.

[Straits Times, ST still Spore’s most-read, 5 Nov 2012]

Straits Times, S’poreans ‘can weather calls for welfarism’, 18 Oct 2014

ALTHOUGH striking a balance between government spending and savings will remain a political challenge, Singaporeans are pragmatic enough to weather growing calls for welfarism, said former foreign minister George Yeo yesterday.

He gave this assurance to an audience member at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s 10th anniversary conference who had asked how the country would deal with demands that the Government spend more.

“For as long as Singaporeans think the Government is rich, they will say, ‘Look, pass some over’,” he said to laughter. “But in fact, we’ve nothing. We’ve only a small island. We’ve no natural endowments, and what we have – I do not know how many hundred billion dollars we have – even if you double it, what is that compared with what others have in ground, in land, underwater?”

The Government needs to strike a balance between spending on today’s generation and saving for future generations, he said. This is a political challenge every generation of Singaporeans has to contend with, said Mr Yeo, who left politics after his team lost Aljunied GRC in the 2011 polls.

But he is confident Singaporeans’ practical view of the world will see them through. “They know that ‘if I don’t get a good education, I’ll be in trouble. And I’d better save for a rainy day’.”

Straits Times, Excerpts from S’pore well placed to adapt to new world order: George Yeo, 18 Oct 2014

Sparking this change is social media that has kept people informed but also distorts, and is sometimes deliberately manipulated. Access to information because of the digital revolution has also played a part in causing the corrosion of hierarchies, as those at the top find their authority and knowledge questioned and challenged by those below across all manner of relationships and institutions.

Hong Kong must not stop self-flagellation

December 3, 2014

I refer to the 29 Oct 2014 Straits Times column “Hong Kong must stop self-flagellation” by Mr Tom Plate.

Although history’s future judgment cannot offer current value, history is replete with many past judgments that can offer current value.

Wasn’t it the breakdown of law and order and erosion of decent respect for legitimate authority in the original British colonies of America that led to the birth of the United States? So instead of taking issue with the factual correctness of Hong Kong’s breakdown of law and order and erosion of decent respect for legitimate authority, Mr Plate should instead take comfort from the factual correctness that it was through such things that American independence was born.

There is no need for an analogy or situation to perfectly resemble Hong Kong in order for it to be applicable. Puerto Rico for example is under US sovereignty but gets full unrestricted elections of its own. Singapore in 1959 also serves as a good example. We were a state of our own under British sovereignty possessing full internal self-government and unfettered right to our own elections. Only defense and foreign affairs matters came under the British. That would be a good arrangement for Hong Kong today. Another example would be the Principality of Monaco which is a sovereign country under the protection of the French or the Principality of Andorra which has links to both France and Catalonia but which too has full unfettered elections of its own.

Instead of ridiculing Hong Kong as the spoiled prodigy that kept demanding for special treats, Mr Plate should instead take heed of the factual correctness of America too being the spoiled prodigy of England that kept demanding for special treats until it ended up fighting and prevailing over its parent.

The story of Hong Kong did not begin with Deng Xiaoping but with Emperor Daoguang. It was during Daoguang’s reign that Hong Kong was forcibly ceded to UK. So instead of asking what Deng would have done if he was alive today, why not ask what Daoguang would have done instead? He would have required all Chinese, including Deng if he was still alive, to fashion pigtails and kowtow to him. That of course would have been silly just as it is silly to ask what Deng would have done.

If Deng had been the uncle of eternal patience, surely he wouldn’t have ordered the Tiananmen massacre would he?

Disruption to Hong Kong’s adult economy is akin to Occupy Wall Street’s disruption to New York’s adult economy except that in both cases adults, even very senior ones partook in those disruptions. Mr Plate doesn’t have to look very far to understand if public space activity would be patiently and lengthily permitted in Los Angeles. He only has to look at New York.

If Mr Plate feels that good, tough decisions have ratcheted up tensions, then surely bad, soft decisions would bring about his so-called “higher level of calm and consensus”? Tom has in fact answered his own question – the solution to Hong Kong’s tensions lies in bad, soft decisions.

If as Mr Plate suggests, these ‘street circuses’ succeed in bringing about a plenary review by the community, wouldn’t that amount to some level of success by the protestors? How would that be considered a waste of time, energy or spirit or for that matter stupid or dispiriting?

Although Tung Chee Hwa retains Beijing’s trust, he is nonetheless a Beijing chosen candidate. Isn’t Beijing chosen candidature the bear bug of the entire Hong Kong issue?

Many things in life like the butterfly must undergo suffering first before transforming into something more beautiful. Cutting down Hong Kong’s self-flagellation prematurely will also cripple its transformation into something bigger that awaits history’s future judgment.

Straits Times, Hong Kong must stop self-flagellation, 29 Oct 2014

History rarely moves in ways simple enough to be wholly comprehensible at the time. Even our best journalism takes but close-up snapshots – never the long view.

What observers and commentators make of what is happening in Hong Kong is not, in any complete sense, what history will eventually make of it. Historical meaning is elusive without the perspective of time, which is precisely what we don’t have at the very moment we need it most. The inescapable flaw of history’s future judgment is its inability to offer current value.

So the question becomes what is to be concluded about Hong Kong right now, in the unfocused, semi-darkness of the moment? Some observers view the struggle of the “pro-democracy” street protesters as the classic diorama of good guys against bad guys. This is obviously simplistic but emotionally appealing. Others view the recent turmoil as the breakdown of law and order and the erosion of a decent respect for legitimate authority. This is factually correct, but is emotionally unappealing. And it is beside the point, which is: Where do Beijing and Hong Kong go from here and in what civilised manner do they do it?

One has the sense that this really is new political terrain – that brilliant Hong Kong is sui generis, one of a kind, resistant to obvious analogies, a situation not really like anything else. The basic but special demographics and geography of Hong Kong place this little gem as close to mainland China as you can get without falling over into Guangzhou and yet, for a long time, sovereign power was absurdly distant.

After the sensible Thatcher government accepted that it had to give it back, the sensible Deng Xiaoping imagined a Hong Kong embraced without rancour or fuss into the overall Chinese family, even if it proved the case that this spoiled prodigy would incessantly demand special treats. Which, more or less, it has, and more or less incessantly.

Were Deng alive today, would he take the rod to the spoilt child? Or shake his head knowingly, the uncle of eternal patience? So far, at least, the Beijing of today has mostly left the official reacting to the local Hong Kong authorities, even as students, among others, continue to play in the streets, freeze traffic, disrupt the adult economy and disrupt domestic tranquillity. Would such public-space activity be so patiently and lengthily permitted in Los Angeles where I reside?

Beijing is understandably perturbed by the protest against its judgment regarding the rules for the 2017 election, in which everyone in Hong Kong will be able to vote but not everyone will be able to run. It regards its rule making as well within its sovereign power.

Pushing negotiations with the upstart protesters down to the working level of the special administrative region itself is tactically correct and within the markers of “one country, two systems”, the governing code endorsed by the late Deng which, though battered, is anything but dead. But there is an operational problem: The local Hong Kong government would appear to have lost too much moral – or at least persuasive – authority.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, who took office in 2012 and early on made some good, tough policy decisions, has inadvertently ratcheted up the tensions. Certainly, his public comment, in which he openly worried over the consequences of permitting the poor to have as much influence over public policy as the elite, was not helpful or calming. It is hard to imagine any responsible Communist Party official in Beijing uttering something like that.

Beijing might quietly want to note that Mr Leung attained the highest office in Hong Kong via an election nominating process that in part will carry through to 2017, despite the grandiose and welcome opening to universal voting. The danger with that is that Hong Kong and Beijing may never gain the kind of inspired leadership both deserve and the tricky “one country, two systems” requires. Perhaps the process of selection should get a second look. A plenary session of review, perhaps a community-at-large process taking even many months, hosted at one of Hong Kong’s universities, would hardly seem more of a waste of time, energy and spirit than these stupid and dispiriting street circuses.

To this end, why not ask Mr Tung Chee Hwa, China’s first chief executive (1997-2005), to chair the review? With his timely and obviously good-willed calls for calm and reason, Mr Tung, who – crucially – retains Beijing’s trust, offers the people of Hong Kong very good reason indeed to listen to him with special attentiveness.

There may be some room for navigation between what Beijing has proposed and what some Hong Kong locals prefer. Surely the time for a higher level of calm and consensus is ripe. The territory and mother China should be working together on ameliorating the social and economic pressures threatening to pull Hong Kong down far more dramatically and dangerously than today’s governance dispute. Hong Kong should get its act together and cut down on the self-flagellations.

The writer is a career journalist, Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and author of In The Middle Of China’s Future (Marshall Cavendish).