Those who champion revisionist account of Singapore's fight against communists are distorting history: Sam Tan

SINGAPORE - Historians and activists seeking to downplay the Communist threat to Singapore in the 1960s are being intellectually dishonest as they "distort Singapore's history to serve their political agendas".

The comment by Minister of State (Prime Minister's Office) Sam Tan on Wednesday is the latest in an ongoing debate over allegations by ex-detainees and some historians that a major crackdown on 113 leftists in February 1963, codenamed Operation Coldstore, was politically motivated.

"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," he said in a statement.

"Historical discourse and debate requires academic rigor, intellectual honesty, and respect for evidence.

"These qualities have been sadly lacking among those championing a revisionist account of a key fight on our road to independence."

He said that in distorting history, "they disrespect the memory of those who made sacrifices and lost lives to defeat the communist threat and build the Singapore that we have today".

His remarks come a month after Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor wrote to Australian website New Mandala to rebut claims in an article by former Coldstore detainee Poh Soo Kai that the arrests were a "set-up" against political opponents of then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, including Barisan Sosialis chief Lim Chin Siong.

Mr Burhan said the Barisan was the principal open united front tool of the banned Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) in Singapore. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also included a link to Mr Burhan's letter in a Facebook post on Dec 20.

But Ms Teo Soh Lung - detained in 1987 after being accused of being part of a Marxist conspiracy - and revisionist historians rejected these statements.

"I don't care if Lim Chin Siong was a communist or a CPM member...What we need to know is whether Lim Chin Siong and his colleagues committed any acts of violence and acted against the interest of Singapore," Ms Teo said in a recent online commentary.

Mr Tan said Ms Teo and the revisionists "continue to maintain the hollow claim that the Communist United Front was an 'invention'. They have not refuted the evidence presented, drawn from both the British archives as well as published accounts by key CPM leaders."

He also cited the British archives and ex-CPM leader Chin Peng who said the Barisan was the CPM's principal political tool, and that Coldstore shattered the CPM's underground network throughout Singapore.

He added that Ms Teo's remarks showed she "has conceded that her previous assertion that Lim Chin Siong was not a communist was untenable, in the face of the evidence cited by Mr Burhan".

"It does matter that Lim Chin Siong was the CPM's key Communist united front leader in Singapore, because the CPM advocated armed struggle, and through the united front was fomenting unrest and disorder in Singapore in order to establish a communist regime throughout Malaya."

zakirh@sph.com.sg