Arguments on Operation Coldstore remain substantially unchallenged, says Thum Ping Tjin

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugan questioned historian Thum Ping Tjin for six hours in front of the committee in March. PHOTOS: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Historian Thum Ping Tjin maintains that a 1963 round-up of leftists in a swoop code-named Operation Coldstore was motivated by political, not security, reasons and that this larger point in his submission to the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods still stands.

His views were set out in a follow-up submission to the Select Committee on Thursday (May 3), which was also published online, the latest development in the continuing controversy over Dr Thum's appearance in front of the committee in March.

At the hearing, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, a committee member, questioned Dr Thum for six hours, arguing that Dr Thum's interpretation of documents from the Special Branch - the agency that preceded the Internal Security Department - was flawed.

While Dr Thum contends that there is no evidence to show that the detainees were involved in any violent communist conspiracy to overthrow the Singapore Government, Mr Shanmugam argued that there was a communist conspiracy in the 1950s and early 1960s to mount an armed struggle against the state.

Later, in an article submitted to The Straits Times, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, both members of the committee, said Dr Thum had conceded that his writings were misleading in parts.

However, Dr Thum has challenged the committee's conclusions in his latest submission, saying that the crux of his original submission had not been addressed in the discussion. The committee had focused instead on an article on Operation Coldstore that had been cited in his submission, he added.

At the same time, he wrote, "at no point did I accept that any part of my article was inaccurate or misleading".

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Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and historian Thum Ping Tjin debate historical accounts leading up to Operation Coldstore on the last day of public hearings on deliberate online falsehoods.

During the hearing, he had said that a statement in his paper concerning a September 1962 telegram from Lord Selkirk, the British Commissioner to Singapore during Operation Coldstore, could have been worded better. While there was a unanimous call by Barisan Sosialis members to continue following peaceful constitutional action in order to achieve power in Singapore in late 1962, Dr Thum acknowledged that they had not explicitly ruled out armed struggle.

In his follow-up submission, though, Dr Thum said his argument that there was unanimous agreement to continue following peaceful constitutional action remains accurate, based on other meeting notes of the Barisan Sosialis and documents cited in his paper.

He had also reiterated this point during the hearing, Dr Thum added in the May 3 submission. He said the statement had not been an attempt to omit some Barisan members' calls for extra-constitutional action, as his research paper had acknowledged that point.

Dr Thum also added that there is an error in the transcript of the hearing.

While Mr Shanmugam had corrected himself and referred to a Dec 11, 1962 telegram, numbered 573, from Lord Selkirk, it appears that he continues to be referring to a Dec 14, 1962 telegram, said Dr Thum.

"It is important to clarify exactly which document is being referenced, because (the Dec 11, 1962 telegram) in fact shows the Lord Selkirk was more concerned with the political position of the British vis-à-vis merger and the creation of Malaysia, than with the security issue.

"In other words, his Telegram 573 supports my argument that Operation Coldstore was fundamentally motivated by political, not security, reasons."

In their article, Mr Lee and Dr Janil said the British had honestly believed that the Operation Coldstore arrests were necessary and noted that Dr Thum had said that he had not read and sometimes not heard of the writings of some senior ex-Communist Party of Malaya leaders and cadres. Some members of the Barisan Sosialis did indeed consider "armed struggle" a legitimate option to pursue at some stage, they added.

On this, Dr Thum said that extracts from certain books presented in the hearings did not contain citations of primary sources and cannot be independently verified.

He added that Singapore Special Branch documents would have the "best evidence" on communism in Singapore. None were presented during the hearing, he said.

During the hearing, Mr Shanmugam told Dr Thum that even if there had not been any instructions for violent action from the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders, it did not mean there was no communist conspiracy among the lower levels of the organisation.

For example, there may have been specific groups of CPM cadres who were organising actions, such as the Hock Lee bus riots , without instructions from the top.

In his latest submission, Dr Thum cited the Special Branch as saying that the Hock Lee bus riots was in fact due to "PAP political manipulation".

Said Dr Thum: "It emphasised that the PAP was using workers for political gain."

The Straits Times has contacted the Select Committee for a response.

Correction note: The story has been edited to reflect the correct date for the telegram from Lord Selkirk.

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