Singapore does not need a 'colour revolution'

Cancelled Yale-NUS course on dissent raises questions about external interference

According to a news report on March 11 last year, a group of Yale-NUS College students held a silent sit-in protest as they claimed that the college did not adequately consider the views of its students when making decisions. The protest ended only after a dialogue between the school and the students.

More than 20 students were believed to have taken part in the protest. The decisions they were unhappy about included the use of public space on campus, changes in the residential life system, mental and academic wellness, and faculty and leadership hiring practices.

The protesters also demanded the reinstatement of monthly town hall meetings, as well as student representation should decisions that affect students be made.

Judging from the report, the rare sit-in protest should have been resolved after the dialogue. There were no follow-up reports for more than a year.

However, the college recently made headlines again. This time, it was reported that the college had cancelled a short-term course titled Dialogue And Dissent In Singapore as the curriculum lacked the diverse perspectives needed for a proper academic examination of the issues around dissent.

The course had originally arranged for local social activists to conduct lectures and dialogues with students, as well as to teach them how to design protest signs.

The programme, which was scheduled to run from the end of this month to early next month, was to be led by Singaporean playwright Alfian Sa'at and Yale-NUS programme manager of leadership and global citizenship Tan Yock Theng. It was originally titled Dissent And Resistance In Singapore.

According to a course outline published earlier on the college's website, the course content included a film on Operation Spectrum, 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy, produced by independent film-maker Jason Soo. A dialogue with Mr Soo was also arranged as part of the programme.

In addition, students would have been able to watch documentaries on prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

Local social activists Jolovan Wham and Seelan Palay, historian Thum Ping Tjin, and political website writer Kirsten Han were also invited to interact with the students. To anyone who pays attention to local news, they are no strangers - almost all of them are so-called dissidents or anti-establishment figures.

Dr Thum appeared at one of the hearings of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods last year, and made the astonishing claim that politicians from the People's Action Party were the source of fake news in Singapore.

He claimed that Operation Coldstore in 1963 was conducted for political purposes and there was no evidence that those detained were involved in any conspiracy to overthrow the Government. In response, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam firmly refuted his claims.

One cannot help but associate the latest news with the college's sit-in silent protest last year, not least because this form of protest is one of the non-violent means of resistance adopted in "colour revolutions".


The intriguing question is: Why did the university's programme manager think of organising a short-term course with strong political overtones?

Why was the course conducted almost exclusively by local dissidents and why did it include teaching students how to design protest signs? From the course outline, it looks wholly like a workshop on non-violent protest and not an academic course at all.

College president Tan Tai Yong said that while reviewing the teaching plans, the university found that the proposed itinerary did not align with the concept and learning objectives earlier approved by the college's curriculum committee, and that "the project in question does not critically engage with the range of perspectives required for a proper academic examination of the political, social and ethical issues that surround dissent".

In addition, the proposed activities and selection of speakers would infringe upon the college's commitment to not advancing partisan political interests on campus. Certain activities might also subject students to the risk of breaking the law, thereby incurring legal liabilities.

In this regard, the college's judgment was that the programme had gone beyond what was permissible by law. Hence, could we say that someone had "hijacked" the course while it was being planned?

In any case, it was a stroke of luck that the college managed to pull the plug in time, but this incident also showed the risks involved in rolling out liberal arts education, especially the risks of infiltration by external influences.

Yale-NUS College is a liberal arts college set up jointly by the United States' Yale University and the National University of Singapore in 2011.

Liberal arts education, also known as general education or humanities education, places emphasis on cross-disciplinary learning, student participation, teacher-student interaction and so on.

Putting aside the question of whether the college is indeed able to nurture all-rounded students who can contribute to society, it will be very difficult for the college to avoid conflicts arising from different value systems and social norms owing to its American influence.


While Yale-NUS College did not explain why it had planned such a short-term course, the fact that its invited speakers comprised mostly dissidents inevitably sets people wondering if political dissidence has found its way into some of our institutes of higher learning.

What is the real intention of getting students to watch documentaries on Mr Joshua Wong and Mr Ai Weiwei? Are we encouraging students to follow in their footsteps en masse?

Is Mr Wong a role model? What has Mr Ai got to do with Singapore?

Hong Kong has suffered from more than three months of protests and violence, and Mr Wong, alongside others, has openly invited foreign powers, such as the US, to intervene in China's domestic affairs. His actions should be severely criticised and not used as teaching material. It did not seem as if the course planners were using him as a negative demonstration either.

It has been established that Hong Kong's anti-government and anti-extradition protests were the result of foreign manipulation and received foreign support. Hence there are grounds to say that the unrest in Hong Kong is a "colour revolution".

Now, there are actually people organising courses on protests locally, using Hong Kong as a case study. Do they think that Singapore also needs a "colour revolution"?

Singapore is by no means another Hong Kong. It does not need a "colour revolution" and there are absolutely no circumstances in its society to fuel one.

However, some people clearly see it as a target against which a "colour revolution" can be, or must be, started. There have been signs that some backers of such revolutions have tried to extend their influence into Singapore.


Colour revolutions that have taken place in different parts of the world over the past few years have been the result of incitement by external forces, namely financial backers seeking to achieve political and economic ends.

It can now be confirmed that some of the behind-the-scenes backers include the US National Democratic Foundation (NED) - an agency born out of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The NED is known to be a front for the CIA to subvert other countries' regimes, and it does so mainly through its involvement in different forms of "colour revolutions", in lieu of the violent and subversive activities that the CIA used to undertake.

Another organisation that is quite active is the Oslo Freedom Forum, founded by the US Human Rights Foundation. The forum held in Taiwan on Sept 13 had Hong Kong as its highlight. Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were invited as speakers.

There is also the Open Society Foundations set up by US billionaire George Soros which attempted to attack the Hong Kong currency during the Asian financial crisis. It engages in subversive and disruptive activities in other countries under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights.

Some readers may recall that in April last year, Singapore's Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) issued a statement rejecting an application by Dr Thum and Ms Han to register OSEA Pte Ltd, on the grounds that the registration would be "contrary to Singapore's national interests".

Acra said OSEA was to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the United Kingdom's Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA UK), whose objective is to "promote the universal values of democracy, freedom of the media, and freedom of inquiry, information and expression", and had received US$75,000 (US$103,000) from Switzerland's Foundation Open Society Institute. The institute was also set up by Mr Soros.

To put it simply, Singapore has long been targeted by people initiating "colour revolutions" and we should not take this lightly.

• Goh Choon Kang is a former journalist and Member of Parliament. The article was first published in Chinese in Lianhe Zaobao on Sept 18.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2019, with the headline Singapore does not need a 'colour revolution'. Subscribe