Wednesday, 20 November 2013

More Questions Than Answers in New Coldstore book

Recently, a book "The 1963 Operation Coldstore inSingapore: Commemorating 50 Years" was launched in Singapore. The book edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang & Hong Lysa aims to present history from the perspective of those arrested during Operation Coldstore. (Note: Poh Soo Kai was one of those detained during Operation Coldstore)

From excerpts and articles published online, Operation Coldstore was positioned as a political move that aimed to shore up Lee Kuan Yew's waning political support during 1963. Apparently, Lee Kuan Yew's own party base was not supporting him and due to that, he sought help from the Malayan Communist Party and then the British. Furthermore, it is claimed that Lee Kuan Yew inserted names onto the arrest list to ensure that even if his own popularity collapsed after the arrests, there would be no real alternative to the PAP. 

With such mouth watering details extracted from de-classified British documents, I look forward to reading the book! To make this even more mouth watering, what the British documents said were in contradiction to other British documents and the records of the local government and Special Branch. For the uninitiated, read Dennis Bloodworth's Tiger and the Trojan Horse.

Strangely though, amongst the publicity there was little mention of the links between these individuals and the Malayan Communist Party, especially for those who were in the Barisan Socialis. This is problematic as we know for certain that Lim Chin Siong, the leader of the Barisan Socialis was a Communist and this important fact was conveniently omitted. Even Fong Chong Pik, the leader of the then Singapore underground  Communist network admitted in his book written in 2008 that he possessed a special relationship with Lim Chin Siong. 

Interestingly, perhaps in their attempts to whitewash their relationship with the Communist cause, it is such glaring gaps in narrative that draw further attention to their relationship with the Communist Party of Malaya. 

Despite this historical tug of war between the PAP government and ex-ISA detainees, one fact is for certain - the Communists were an armed insurgency that caused undeniable physical damage to Singapore's infrastructure and terrorized the population. At the end of the Communist insurgency, no less than 12,000 people perished. This violent doctrine only officially ended in 1989 when the CPM signed a peace treaty to cease all hostilities. Therefore, maybe it is the CPM's violence that presented the advantage and legitimacy to Lee Kuan Yew's PAP government to clamp down on the Malayan Communist Party and its affiliates.

That said, there were innocent individuals scooped up for their political allegiances and became the collateral damage in this Communist insurgency.  But at a time when the CPM waged a physical insurgency and conducted shrewd political manoeuvrings through its political proxies, weeding out the Communists at its bud would be no easy task.

For your viewing pleasure, I have embedded a History Channel documentary on the Malayan Emergency depicting the the dire situation at the height of the Communist insurgency (1948 - 1950s). 


  1. This is not the first or last time this issue would be discussed. When asked point blank by Lord Selkirk, Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan couldn't even say if they weren't communists.

    Of course, Colonial Office records have an equal amount to say about Lee's opponents during this same period. So, in the interests of 'balance', here's another passage from our book where the endnotes reveal some value-added extras once more. Again, our story comes from the middle of 1961, but this time the spotlight is on the radical leftists – Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Sandra Woodhull and James Puthucheary – and on what would later become known as the 'Eden Hall Tea Party'.

    OUR TEXT (from page 396):

    Still mulling over their response to the merger discussions, Lim, Fong, Woodhull and Puthucheary (following a phone enquiry from the latter) went to see Lord Selkirk ... at his Eden Hall Residence. They asked him point-blank whether the British would arrest them and suspend Singapore's constitution should Lee Kuan Yew be voted out of office. Selkirk replied that the constitution was a fair one which the British would respect, as long as any new party stuck to constitutional means and refrained from violence.


    See Stockwell (ed.), pp. 145-147. Often the second part of this conversation is overlooked. Apparently, Selkirk then told his guests that for Singapore to survive it would need economic stability and he asked Lim and Fong whether they were communists. The Colonial Office report of the meeting reads: 'They [Lim and Fong] seemed to be embarrassed by this question and failed to give a clear reply. Mr Woodhull, on the other hand, stated categorically that he was not a communist.'

  2. Bullshit. Coldstore was just an exercise to rid LKY of his political opponents, there's no communist ploy. LKY wanted to stick close to Brits and Americans. His opponents and those arrested are more pro-China and Russia. Singapore's population is mostly Chinese and most are pro-China. Most did not speak English. LKY single-handedly transformed the whole of Singapore against its nature. Now they even want to name a stadium after him!

  3. Agree that if the leftists, who were then stronger than the English-educated PAP, were to continue to govern, Singapore might not be so Anglicized or modern western today. My father told me he was even prevented from taking final exams when he was studying in 1963 after protesters against Coldstore blockade the Chinese medium schools. So did LKY change the whole nature of the island? Of course he did! Look at all of us yellow and brown people speaking this funny language called Singlish!