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Merger Stories

The government wants to remind us of our roots and fight for independence from 59, to 63 to 65. A story which is challenged now by revisionists, which is part and parcel of how history is told and re-told, unpackaged and packaged. History is the story of the winners, but revisionism importantly allows the story of the losers to be heard, at least in the case of Singapore’s path to independence where communists are described as anti-colonialists. A true description. However, revisionism comes close to fiction when there is denial of the communist unrest in Singapore’s pre and post independence years. The Barisan Sosialis, a key protagonist, is arguably communist or at least communist-leaning and the scapegoat of communist unrest. There was the Vietnam War in the neighbourhood and the Emergency still echoed in the political consciousnesses. The Cold War raged on and from many accounts, it was a close call for the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 62.

 

The Battle for Merger shows will and spirit of pioneers

It is important for Singaporeans to remember and understand the battle between the communists and non-communists in Singapore in the early 1960s, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. At the heart of the battle were two contrasting views on how society should be ordered and governed, he said yesterday at the launch of the reprint of The Battle for Merger — a series of radio broadcasts by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1961. Mr Teo said the events vividly described in the book showed the will and spirit of pioneer leaders such as Mr Lee in confronting difficult challenges and making critical choices for Singapore’s future. This, and the fact that some revisionist writers have tried to recast the role played by the communists and their supporters on the merger issue, is why this crucial turning point in Singapore’s history continues to be relevant today, he added. The following is the speech by Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

I am pleased to be here today to launch the reprint of The Battle for Merger, which comprises a series of radio broadcasts by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1961. I am lucky to own a copy of the original publication printed in 1962. It belonged to my father. I remember hearing these radio broadcasts as a child.

Though I was too young then to understand them, I could sense the magnitude and gravity of the events that were swirling around us. But Singaporeans of my father’s generation and those just a little older than me will certainly remember those tumultuous days and Mr Lee’s radio broadcasts.

It was a time when momentous decisions had to be made for Singapore. A wrong decision would have been calamitous and Singapore today might still be trying to shake off the dire effects. Mr Lee’s broadcasts electrified the population and were crucial in making Singaporeans understand what the battle was about and persuading them to support the merger with Malaysia.

The Battle for Merger

Some may wonder: Why should The Battle for Merger be reprinted now? In 2015, we will celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary. This is a significant milestone, especially when we consider our precarious and tumultuous beginnings. While we became an independent nation only in 1965, our road to independence had begun earlier, with our attempt to forge a shared destiny with the then Federation of Malaya. Our hard-fought attempt to gain independence by merging with Malaya was, in fact, a battle for the future of Singapore. On the surface, it was a battle for merger.

But this was only on the surface. Below the surface was another deeper, more momentous, more dangerous battle — that between the communists and non-communists in Singapore.

At the heart of this battle were two contrasting visions on how society should be ordered and how we should govern ourselves. It was not simply a fight to get rid of British colonial rule; rather, the communists and their allies had a larger agenda. Their objective was to impose a communist regime in Malaya and Singapore through all means, including subversion, and ultimately, armed revolution. They never gave up on this larger agenda. This was why the communists continued to pose a security threat to us long after both Malaya and Singapore had gained independence in 1957 and 1965, respectively, and even after all British forces had left in 1971. In one incident in June 1974, the inspector-general of police in Malaysia was gunned down in broad daylight by a communist hit squad.

The events vividly described in The Battle for Merger bear testament to the resourcefulness, will and spirit of pioneer Singaporeans led by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues in the government and the People’s Action Party (PAP). Our pioneers were confronted with difficult challenges and dilemmas and had to make critical choices for not only themselves, but future generations of Singaporeans. This is why, despite the vast changes that have taken place in the world and in Singapore over the past 50 years, this crucial turning point in our history continues to be relevant to us today.

SINGAPORE IN 1961

What was Singapore like in 1961, when Mr Lee made these radio broadcasts? What was the broader strategic environment? The Cold War between communism and the free world was at its height. The Berlin Wall, which for decades signified the divide between the two contending sides, had just been built. In fact, construction had started on Aug 13 that year, exactly a month before the first of Mr Lee’s broadcasts on Sept 13. Proxy wars and ideological battles were being fought in many countries. South-east Asia was a hot spot. Malaya and Singapore were not spared. There were grave security concerns over the growing communist influence in Malaya and Singapore.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, communism was in the ascendant in Singapore. The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) had waged a violent armed insurgency since 1948 and fomented urban strife in its attempt to establish a communist Malaya (which included Singapore). The CPM targeted those who opposed them, including civilians, and security and police personnel. In Singapore, between 1950 and 1955, the CPM hit squads carried out at least 19 known murders, as well as numerous acid attacks, arson and other acts of violence. When the CPM’s violent, armed guerrilla war and their intimidation of the civilian population failed to turn Singapore and Malaya “red”, the communists switched strategy to place more emphasis on subversive Communist United Front (CUF) tactics instead. Through the CUF, the CPM intended to first drive out the British from Singapore and then topple the Malayan government. From 1954 to 1963, the CPM penetrated student bodies, labour unions, political parties and cultural and rural organisations in Singapore to spread its ideology and influence, attract supporters and mobilise activists to mount a campaign to destabilise and take over Singapore.

The CUF organisations instigated unrest and dissatisfaction among the population by exploiting unhappiness over socio-economic issues and particular government policies. Singapore went through a period of great upheaval and civil unrest. Protests, sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations were frequent. The trade unions and student bodies were the front organisations for these confrontations. But they were controlled and manipulated from behind the scenes by communist hands.

Some of these events resulted in the deaths of innocent Singaporeans and security personnel. The result — which was intended — was tension, anxiety and instability in Singapore.

Why did the CPM and its pro-communist allies operating in the CUF organisations decide to oppose merger?

When Mr Lee and his colleagues in the PAP were elected to form the government in June 1959, it was on a pro-merger platform. Merger was also supported by the communists and pro-communists who, at the time, were in the PAP. Other political parties also had similar pro-merger agendas. Merger was deemed essential for Singapore’s economic survival. People travelled across the Causeway frequently and co-mingled freely. Even the CPM considered Singapore a part of Malaya — there was no “Communist Party of Singapore” because, in its eyes, Singapore was an integral part of Malaya. There was only the Singapore Town Committee of the CPM.

Yet, when the PAP announced its support for merger and the concept of Malaysia to attain full independence from the British, the communists and pro-communists opposed it and tried to capture the PAP and the Singapore government in July 1961 . Merger was against the communists’ interests for two reasons. First, it would result in the quick end of British rule in Singapore and make it harder for the CUF to disguise its agenda to establish a communist regime as an anti-colonial struggle. Second, the CPM expected the anti-communist Federation Government to clamp down on them as internal security would come under the Central Government in Kuala Lumpur once merger was achieved.

The CPM never believed Singapore should be independent of Malaya. Indeed, much later, when Singapore separated from Malaysia in August 1965, the CPM denounced Singapore’s independence as “phoney”. The Barisan Sosialis took the same line when it decided to boycott and later withdraw from Parliament and take to the streets instead. But in 1961, the communists wanted to capture power in a self-governing Singapore and use that as a base to subvert the Federation and, in due course, establish communist rule over the entire Malayan peninsula.

As Mr Lee said in his preface, The Battle for Merger broadcasts were pivotal in lifting the curtain on the communists and exposing their hidden manoeuvrings. It was necessary for Mr Lee to make public the communist threat and reveal key CPM personalities, as well as how the communists operated, including their objectives and methods. Singaporeans, whether they were for or against merger, needed to know the real communist agenda in order to make their choice.

This was why Mr Lee decided to speak to Singaporeans directly on the matter. He gave three talks a week, each delivered in English, Mandarin and Malay, totalling 36 broadcasts in less than a month. This gruelling effort left him thoroughly exhausted. But he got his message across. The talks played a vital part in defeating the anti-merger campaign of the communists and pro-communists. In the referendum on merger held in September 1962, 71 per cent supported the PAP’s position while 25 per cent cast blank votes as advocated by the anti-merger group.

Though public support for merger was unequivocal in 1962 and Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963, the differences in views between the Singaporean and Malaysian governments on how a multiracial, multi-religious nation should govern itself caused the merger to fail.

In 1965, when independence was thrust upon Singapore, we were struggling with poor economic prospects, fraught communal relations and a continuing communist threat. The Cold War raged on and the Vietnam War was intensifying. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led the United States to engage in Vietnam, had occurred in 1964. The Cultural Revolution, which brought turmoil to China for a decade, started the next year, in 1966.

Even after independence, the communists persisted in their violent attempts to destabilise Singapore. The CPM revived its armed struggle in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1970, a seven-year-old girl was killed by a booby-trapped bomb planted by a CPM unit in Changi. In 1974, three communists were on their way to plant home-made bombs in Telok Kurau when one bomb exploded prematurely in Katong, killing two of the bombers. The third bomber was injured, but escaped and eventually fled to Johor with the help of CPM supporters. The following year, in 1975, the security authorities recovered in Loyang and Tampines two caches of 298 hand grenades accumulated by another CPM unit that had carried out vicious attacks in Singapore in the 1950s. Indeed, the voice of Malayan revolution, the CPM radio station, was broadcasting up until 1981, preaching the revolution of communism. Several Singaporeans worked at this radio station.

The spectre of communism receded only after the People’s Republic of China abandoned its support for the CPM in the 1980s. The CPM finally ceased hostilities and signed peace agreements in Hat Yai with the Malaysian government and the Thai authorities. The date, Dec 2, 1989, when the CPM finally laid down its arms, was barely a month after the Berlin Wall was breached on Nov 9, 1989 — the same Berlin Wall that was the symbol of the Cold War and whose construction began in 1961, only a month before the first Battle for Merger broadcast.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BATTLE FOR MERGER TODAY

Today, the events surrounding the merger are no longer at the forefront of the minds of Singaporeans. For the older ones, the tumultuous years described in The Battle for Merger are a receding, distant memory. The younger ones, especially those born after 1965, would have no personal memory of these events. They would know of these years through only history books or from their parents or grandparents.

The Battle for Merger provides a powerful contemporaneous account of the events at that time. It captures the flavour and intensity of the exchanges, the battle for the hearts and minds of Singaporeans over the merger and, more fundamentally, the fierce struggle between the communists and the non-communists over the future of Singapore.

As we approach our 50th year of independence, some revisionist writers have attempted to recast the role played by the communists and their supporters on the merger issue. They portray the fight as merely a peaceful and democratic disagreement over the type of merger. They ignore the more fundamental agenda of the communists to seize power by subversion and armed revolution. The CPM’s armed struggle and the CUF’s efforts to destabilise Singapore before, during and after the battle for merger have been well documented by various academics and writers, including top leaders of the CPM such as Chin Peng and Fong Chong Pik.

These multiple sources support the argument that Mr Lee made in The Battle for Merger more than five decades ago: Namely, that there was a communist conspiracy to take power being played out over the merger issue, which he felt compelled to expose in his broadcasts. The re-publication of the book will provide a reality check to the revisionist views. I hope it will awaken interest among younger Singaporeans in the events of this crucial period in our history, educate them on what actually happened, what the battle was about and why it was so crucial that the right side won.

Indeed, one might ask: What if the communists and their pro-communist CUF allies had won and Singapore had fallen under communist rule in the 1960s? We would have gone on a completely different path. Where would we be today?

Singapore would probably not have survived, as a small communist outcast in South-east Asia, as the Cold War raged in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Even if Singapore had survived, life would have been harsh and miserable. We need only look at the communist world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the countries that continue to subscribe to communism today. The more successful ones have made major adaptations in recent decades and adopted drastic reforms and policies to make themselves more competitive and enable the standard of living of their citizens to catch up with free market economies.

The 1960s were tumultuous times. We should respect the personal conviction and determination of those who held different views then and fought on the side of the communists. As Mr Lee said in his broadcast: “They are not crooks or opportunists. These are men with great resolve, dedicated to the communist revolution and the establishment of the communist state, believing that it is the best thing in the world for mankind.”

But we should, even more, acknowledge and give our respect and appreciation to the Singaporeans who had the courage and wisdom to reject the CPM’s ideology and tactics, including its violent methods, and those of its pro-communist supporters — Singaporeans who rallied to support the non-communist cause under the leadership of Mr Lee, who fortunately, mustered a majority to defeat the communist side in a democratic contest.

Among those who have contributed to building our nation are some who initially joined or supported the communists. It took special courage for them to turn away from the communist cause after recognising its serious flaws and inadequacies. They made a brave choice in the face of intimidation and threats to their lives and families. They had the courage to acknowledge that the path advocated by the CPM was the wrong one and to join the majority of Singaporeans who had made that critical choice for a non-communist, democratic, peaceful and constructive path forward.

There were others, including several senior CPM figures, who had fled Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s but returned home with their families after the CPM laid down its arms in 1989. They made no pretence about their past activities and beliefs and were reconciled to the fact that theirs was not a cause shared by the majority of Singaporeans. They had seen the road that communism had travelled and admitted that it had failed. After providing an account of their communist activities to the security authorities, they and their families settled back in Singapore as loyal citizens and contributed to our country’s progress.

But it was a close call. Then, as now, Singapore had little room to manoeuvre. The wrong decision, and it would have gone the other way and Singapore would have turned out very differently.

Our pioneers’ spirit and their determination to rise above the hardships of the moment, including the dire threat of communism, and focus on making Singapore a better country for the next generation is an inspiration for all Singaporeans. This spirit, epitomised in The Battle for Merger, is a precious heritage that we all, as Singaporeans, should honour, recognise and emulate.

To Singapore, With Love, And Denials

It’s a documentary on people who fled or left Singapore for political reasons, so naturally they would have a different story to tell from the government e.g. they were innocent, they were maligned. If they were supposedly guilty, of course they would say they were innocent instead. Similarly on the government’s side, if they were innocent, of course the government would say they were guilty to bury the past. As in most truths, it is about shades of truths and untruths between the opposing versions .

Yaacob has thrown the gauntlet down that those interviewed lied about their communist past. The argument is going to degrade into a “I say one thing and you say another thing” dualism.

Nevertheless, any history follower would know that communism was a global revolutionary movement in that Cold War period. Stories to forget communism existed is outright denialism and outrageous despite what some academics want to market now with “progressive left” whitewashing. Those who fled Singapore had a reason to flee. Them saying that they were political activists who feared arrest might not be far from the truth if we see that communism at worst or leftist politics at best was a political opposition to the PAP’s brand of authoritarian anti-Red democracy.

The broader issue is not whether they were communists, which is quite clear and it lies in just a matter of degree of their Redness, but why there is still censorship, despite the government’s denial.

To Singapore, With Love ‘contains untruths about history': Dr Yaacob

Tan Pin Pin’s film allowed some Communist Party of Malaya and Communist United Front sympathisers to re-cast their past actions as the expression of a “peaceful and democratic difference of ideology and views”, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said.

SINGAPORE: Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, With Love is not a historical documentary presenting a factual account, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 7). The film’s “one-sided portrayals” are designed to “evoke feelings of sympathy and support for individuals” who in reality chose to leave Singapore and remain in self-exile, he added.

Dr Yaacob said the film gives a misleading account of these individuals’ past, and makes no attempt to present an objective account of the violent Communist insurrection that they had participated in and have not renounced.

“The film To Singapore, With Love contains untruths and deception about this history. Therefore it received an appropriate classification which disallowed it for public viewing,” the minister said in response to questions posed by various MPs, including MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng and Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin.

“To allow the public screening of a film that obfuscates and whitewashes an armed insurrection by an illegal organisation, and violent and subversive acts directed at Singaporeans, would effectively mean condoning the use of violence and subversion in Singapore, and thus harm our national security.

“It would also be a gross injustice to the men and women who braved violence and intimidation to stand up to the Communists, especially those who lost their lives in the fight to preserve Singapore’s security and stability, and secure a democratic, non-Communist Singapore.”

Dr Yaacob said from 1948, the Communist Party of Malaya waged a campaign using violence and subversion for over four decades, to install a communist regime in Malaysia and Singapore. Over 8,000 civilians and security personnel were killed or wounded during the insurgency. Communist hit squads also assassinated Singaporeans in broad daylight.

He said the party’s aims, violent means, organisation and membership are well-established historical facts, and had been written about extensively. The film received a “Not Allowed for All Ratings” (NAR) classification by the Media Development Authority in September, which means the film is not for exhibition or distribution in Singapore.

INDIVIDUALS IN FILM DEFLECTED, OMITTED PAST ACTIONS

Dr Yaacob also pointed out that those featured in the film had deflected or omitted mentions of their past actions.

For example, Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) member He Jin – also known as Lim Kim Chuan, who served in the China-based propaganda radio station the Voice of Malayan Revolution (VMR) – deflected questions about the communists using violence against Singapore. Instead, He spoke of the CPM’s involvement in fighting the Japanese during World War II.

Two more CPM members featured in the film – Tan Hee Kim and wife Yap Wan Ping – claimed they only joined the CPM after they decided to leave Singapore. In reality, they were already active CPM members before they left, the minister said.

As for Ho Juan Thai, who was also in the film, he had admitted in an open letter in 1982 that he had amended the expiry date of his Singapore passport. He also committed Exit Permit offences when he left Singapore illegally, Dr Yaacob said.

Tan Wah Piow also left Singapore through illegal channels to evade National Service enlistment and travelled to the United Kingdom on his expired passport with a forged extension endorsement, he added.

“Both Ho and Tan can return to Singapore, although they cannot expect to be granted immunity if they are found to have flouted the law. Members will agree that nobody can expect to be placed above the law,” Dr Yaacob stated.

FILM CAN STILL BE PRIVATELY SCREENED

Dr Yaacob also said the NAR classification does not prohibit the private screening of a film. For instance, tertiary institutions can request for approval to screen NAR-classified films to students, subject to the consent of the film-maker. MDA had recently agreed to a request from Yale-NUS College to screen Ms Tan’s film as part of a course on documentaries about conflicts, he said.

“In an academic setting, there are avenues for different views to be heard or presented, and we trust that tertiary institutions will present an objective and balanced account of events to be examined critically by students,” he said.

The minister also said MDA had explained the rationale for the NAR classification to the applicant, in this case NUS Museum, which had submitted To Singapore, With Love for classification.

“MDA does meet with film-makers who want to understand more about classifications while they are developing their films, or the rationale for a classification after a film has been classified,” said Dr Yaacob.

“It is then up to the film-maker to decide whether he or she wants to re-work or edit the film and, if so, submit a fresh application to MDA for classification.”

Ms Tan had said on her Facebook page on Oct 2 that she had resubmitted her documentary to the MDA’s Films Appeal Committee on Sep 30.

Hong Kong from Another Lens

I said earlier that Hong Kong had no universal suffrage before 1997 anyway, and The Guardian commentary gave a deeper insight into the Hong Kong protest psyche, different from the typical pro-West view on the democracy movement in Hong Kong now. The writer, Martin Jacques, is a seasoned China expert who takes a more layered view of the events in Hong Kong. He makes a persuasive point that Hong Kong’s crisis is not about universal suffrage per se as it was never a real problem before, but of changing demographics and frustrations with Beijing. A Beijing that allowed Chinese cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai to take over slowly the former British colony’s lead in port and financial services, and more Chinese workers and tourists flooding Hong Kong and causing the inevitable social tension.

The Guardian’s commentary by Martin Jacques is even more enriching when compared side by side with another commentary in The Guardian which is more pro-protest, pro-revolution, and common among Western reporting of the Umbrella Revolution. The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

 

China is Hong Kong’s future – not its enemy
Martin Jacques
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 September 2014 19.45 BST

The upheaval sweeping Hong Kong is more complicated than on the surface it might appear. Protests have erupted over direct elections to be held in three years’ time; democracy activists claim that China’s plans will allow it to screen out the candidates it doesn’t want.

It should be remembered, however, that for 155 years until its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony, forcibly taken from China at the end of the first opium war. All its 28 subsequent governors were appointed by the British government. Although Hong Kong came, over time, to enjoy the rule of law and the right to protest, under the British it never enjoyed even a semblance of democracy. It was ruled from 6,000 miles away in London. The idea of any kind of democracy was first introduced by the Chinese government. In 1990 the latter adopted the Basic Law, which included the commitment that in 2017 the territory’s chief executive would be elected by universal suffrage; it also spelt out that the nomination of candidates would be a matter for a nominating committee.

This proposal should be seen in the context of what was a highly innovative – and, to westerners, completely unfamiliar – constitutional approach by the Chinese. The idea of “one country, two systems” under which Hong Kong would maintain its distinctive legal and political system for 50 years. Hong Kong would, in these respects, remain singularly different from the rest of China, while at the same time being subject to Chinese sovereignty. In contrast, the western view has always embraced the principle of “one country, one system” – as, for example, in German unification. But China is more a civilisation-state than a nation-state: historically it would have been impossible to hold together such a vast country without allowing much greater flexibility. Its thinking – “one civilisation, many systems” – was shaped by its very different history.

In the 17 years since the handover, China has, whatever the gainsayers might suggest, overwhelmingly honoured its commitment to the principle of one country, two systems. The legal system remains based on English law, the rule of law prevails, and the right to demonstrate, as we have seen so vividly in recent days, is still very much intact. The Chinese meant what they offered. Indeed, it can reasonably be argued that they went to extremes in their desire to be unobtrusive: sotto voce might be an apt way of describing China’s approach to Hong Kong. At the time of the handover, and in the three years I lived in Hong Kong from 1998, it was difficult to identify any visible signs of Chinese rule: I recall seeing just one Chinese flag.

Notwithstanding this, Hong Kong – and its relationship with China – was in fact changing rapidly. Herein lies a fundamental reason for the present unrest: the growing sense of dislocation among a section of Hong Kong’s population. During the 20 years or so prior to the handover, the territory enjoyed its golden era – not because of the British but because of the Chinese. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping embarked on his reform programme, and China began to grow rapidly. It was still, however, a relatively closed society. Hong Kong was the beneficiary – it became the entry point to China, and as a result attracted scores of multinational companies and banks that wanted to gain access to the Chinese market. Hong Kong got rich because of China. It also fed an attitude of hubris and arrogance. The Hong Kong Chinese came to enjoy a much higher standard of living than the mainlanders. They looked down on the latter as poor, ignorant and uncouth peasants, as greatly their inferior. They preferred – up to a point – to identify with westerners rather than mainlanders, not because of democracy (the British had never allowed them any) but primarily because of money and the status that went with it.

Much has changed since 1997. The Chinese economy has grown many times, the standard of living of the Chinese likewise. If you want to access the Chinese market nowadays, why move to Hong Kong when you can go straight to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and a host of other major cities? Hong Kong has lost its role as the gateway to China. Where previously Hong Kong was China’s unrivalled financial centre, now it is increasingly dwarfed by Shanghai. Until recently, Hong Kong was by far China’s largest port: now it has been surpassed by Shanghai and Shenzhen, and Guangzhou will shortly overtake it.

Two decades ago westerners comprised the bulk of Hong Kong’s tourists, today mainlanders account for the overwhelming majority, many of them rather more wealthy than most Hong Kong Chinese. Likewise, an increasing number of mainlanders have moved to the territory – which is a growing source of resentment. If China needed Hong Kong in an earlier period, this is no longer nearly as true as it was. On the contrary, without China, Hong Kong would be in deep trouble.

Understandably, many Hong Kong Chinese are struggling to come to terms with these new realities. They are experiencing a crisis of identity and a sense of displacement. They know their future is inextricably bound up with China but that is very different from embracing the fact. Yet there is no alternative: China is the future of Hong Kong.

All these issues, in a most complex way, are being played out in the present arguments over universal suffrage. Hong Kong is divided. About half the population support China’s proposals on universal suffrage, either because they think they are a step forward or because they take the pragmatic view that they will happen anyway. The other half is opposed. A relatively small minority of these have never really accepted Chinese sovereignty. Anson Chan, the former head of the civil service under Chris Patten, and Jimmy Lai, a prominent businessman, fall into this category, and so do some of the Democrats. Then there is a much larger group, among them many students, who oppose Beijing’s plans for more idealistic reasons.

One scenario can be immediately discounted. China will not accept the election of a chief executive hostile to Chinese rule. If the present unrest continues, then a conceivable backstop might be to continue indefinitely with the status quo, which, from the point of view of democratic change, both in Hong Kong and China, would be a retrograde step. More likely is that the Chinese government will persist with its proposals, perhaps with minor concessions, and anticipate that the opposition will slowly abate. This remains the most likely scenario.

An underlying weakness of Chinese rule has nevertheless been revealed by these events. One of the most striking features of Hong Kong remains the relative absence of a mainland political presence. The Chinese have persisted with what can best be described as a hands-off approach. Their relationship to the administration is either indirect or behind the scenes. Strange as it may seem, the Chinese are not involved in the cut and thrust of political argument. They will need to find more effective ways of making their views clear and arguing their case – not in Beijing but in Hong Kong.

The CPF Protest and Bad Manners

From a real protest in Hong Kong, the CPF protest a few days ago is a bad comedy in comparison. There is finally closure of sorts. Roy Ngerng offered an apology fo disrupting the YMCA event at Hong Lim Park on Saturday. No sound from shrieking Han Hui Hui, the other chief culprit. Maybe she was not so contrite as Roy because Roy is the one that needs long term unwavering public support in his legal wrangle with the PM.

The facts are clear. The CPF protesters were louts and gatecrashed into the YMCA charity event. They were uncooperative in sharing the park, blamed other parties and desperate for attention, seeing confrontation as a tactic to make the their quite tiresome CPF protest newsworthy. The PAP and the media were very quick to see a mistake by a  clumsy foe and pounced on Roy and Hui Hui’s bad judgement and manners. However, the PAP arguably harped a bit too much on an obvious shoot in the foot by the CPF protesters. The PAP’s gloating and mock indignation was also bad manners, but on a lesser scale.

Roy Ngerng issues apology over carnival disruption: Teo Ser Luck
AsiaOneMonday, Sep 29, 2014

SINGAPORE – In his most recent Facebook status updated about three hours ago, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck has confirmed that Roy Ngerng issued an apology for disrupting a weekend charity carnival at Hong Lim Park.

On Facebook, Mr Teo said: “Since Roy Ngerng offered the apology, it’s a step forward. I think he should especially for the children.

“The protesters were going after me but it affected the children and the event. For this I feel sorry and would apologise to YMCA and the children for this inconvenience caused because of my presence,” added Mr Teo.
Mr Teo was the guest-of-honour at YMCA’s Proms @ the Park carnival, which was held last Saturday afternoon.
Mr Ngerng and another blogger, Ms Han Hui Hui, had organised a protest on CPF issues at the park, coinciding with the charity carnival at the same venue.

According to The Straits Times, Mr Ngerng, 33, and Ms Han, 22 had led several hundred people on a march through the YMCA event, and allegedly heckling special-needs children who were on stage.

The protesters, some of whom were waving the Singapore flag, were chanting “Vote them out, PAP” and “Return our CPF”, just as the children were about to perform a dance item.

Videos of the encounter have been circulating on social media and drew criticism from netizens.

Ending off with a smiley on his recent status, Mr Teo said: “It’s supposed to be a happy event. We will all learn something from here.”
stephluo@sph.com.sg

Hong Kong and Suffrage, Little Change Pre and Post 1997

Large scale peaceful protests are not uncommon in Hong Kong. The firing of tear gas, however, is unusual and is a jolt to the Hong Kong electorate. Whether that would enrage and embolden the protesters more, or make them meek, I think the former. The involvement of students in the protest poses awkwardness for Beijing. They cannot be seen as too rough in handling the students as most of the youth there are in it more for the edgy carnival atmosphere and rebellious experience, with a sprinkling of political eagerness. While 1989 was a long time ago and a whole different world, the image of defiant students protesting is something Beijing wants to avoid in the narrative of the Hong Kong protest.

The romanticism of the need for protests is that Beijing would restrict democracy which is not far from the truth, given the pro-China bias in the way the chief executive election is held. However, was Hong Kong under British rule really democratic?

The post of the Governor of Hong Kong until 1997 was never elected by the Hong Kong public. There was no universal suffrage then either  under British rule. To play Devil’s Advocate, at least now the Hong Kong public has a choice of which pro-China Chief Executive they want.

 

Hong Kong surprises itself with the exuberance and spontaneity of protests
Sight of police wearing helmets and respirators unfamiliar and chilling to many, even before teargas was deployed
Tania Branigan in Hong Kong
The Guardian, Monday 29 September 2014

 

“Did you ever think you would see anything like this in Hong Kong? I never thought I would see anything like this in Hong Kong,” a resident marvelled as we rounded the corner of the flyover and saw for the first time just how many people had flowed into the roads around the government offices at Admiralty.

Hong Kong is no stranger to large-scale protests pushing back against Beijing: huge numbers took to the streets over controversial security laws in 2003 and plans for compulsory “patriotic education” two years ago – on both occasions prompting backdowns, though few expect a similar outcome this time.

Nor was Sunday night exactly chaotic, despite the bursts of teargas from police and the impromptu protests that sprang up at fresh locations. There were first-aid stations, litter-collection points and frequent bursts of applause: for people delivering water, or police helping an unconscious protester. The crowds swarmed around small numbers of officers repeatedly, trying to stop them moving in, but held their hands in the air to indicate they intended no malice. Upturned umbrellas blossomed across sections of the crowds to ward off pepper spray and more teargas.

In many ways it was a very Hong Kong protest, down to the protesters who politely explained that they would not be present the next day as they needed to go to work.

But the resident saw something unique in the exuberance and spontaneity of the peaceful crowd – preempting plans to launch the civil-disobedience movement on Wednesday, a national holiday – combined with the tough tactics of the police. It is the first time officers have fired teargas in Hong Kong for almost a decade.

Whether Sunday’s events will do anything to shift the views of the many people here who think of Occupy Central as inconvenient or ill-judged remains to be seen. Many protesters acknowledged that large sections of the region’s population remain politically conservative and more focused on maintaining economic stability than fighting for rights.

“You never see Hong Kong people grouping together; they always want to work and earn money,” said Melissa Lam, a 27-year-old sales assistant.

She had never protested before, but the police reaction to the students made her feel she had to act.

“I was watching TV while I ate dinner and when I saw what the police did I almost cried. My family said: You don’t have to go there – you can’t do anything in front of China; you can’t change anything … But I think I had to come. There’s no excuse. If you don’t stand up today there’s no tomorrow,” she said.

In theory the protests are about whether the universal suffrage promised to Hong Kong will be delivered or not. Beijing says that one person, one vote for the next chief executive, marks a step forward; its critics say the restrictions on candidates are so tight as to make that meaningless.

In reality, most here seem to see the protests as being about whether the region can retain its independently minded identity: about defending its rights and culture, rather than advancing them.

“We want to protect the democracy of Hong Kong,” said Templi Wong, 17.

Fifty-year-old businessman Lawrence Ku added: “Hong Kong’s freedoms have been getting less and less since the handover. We just want to have the freedom like before.”

Ku said he also feared that an influx of mainland migrants meant that soon “Hong Kong won’t be Hong Kong”, reflecting a widespread and growing sentiment.

The protesters are determined to maintain the rights and liberties unimaginable to their counterparts on the mainland. There was alarm that 17-year-old student leader Joshua Wong was held for more than 40 hours without charge – but a high court judge ordered his unconditional release on Sunday, telling police that the Scholarism leader had been held for an “unreasonably” long time. He urged the police to treat two other student leaders fairly; Lester Shum and Alex Chow were reportedly released not long afterwards.

Officers unfurled signs warning that they would fire teargas before doing so. Officials stressed that riot officers, though equipped with rubber bullets, had not used them.

But the sight of police wearing helmets and respirators was unfamiliar and chilling in itself to many, even before the canisters were deployed.

Hong Kong has often shown its spirit most forcefully when it feels under pressure from Beijing: now it is doing so again. Yet this time it faces an increasingly assertive leadership on the mainland which, thanks to China’s economic growth, no longer needs to be as careful of the financial centre as it once was. The real battle is not over the 2017 election as much as the region’s long term expectations and aspirations.

Singapore Companies Hacked and Humiliated

Hacking is getting more and more into our sight. In 2012, one example was a Singapore sweet shop website hacked  by Malaysians. last week, KBox was hacked into and more than 300,000 member details leaked. An infamous milestone in the Singapore context. In that week, an M1 online form was hacked and some personal accounts were also compromised. Last year, Messiah aka James Raj Arokiasamy stole Standard Chartered customers’ statement details besides hacking into the AMK Town Council website. Singapore Arts Museum personnel data was also stolen by others and published for all to gawk at and abuse last year. Hackers go for the easy hack, public and private bodies who don’t bother to keep their data confidential and protected from online attacks. The hacker plague is not limited to Singapore while it has become more and more common lately in the little red dot. This year, Home Depot, a huge US chain, was also hit and credit card details of members stolen.

Hackers are vandals and thieves regardless if they hit public or private organisations, regardless if they have some pretentious socio-political messages or upfront about their criminal intentions. Companies are not blameless if they allow themselves to be hacked especially if data leaked puts its customers at physical or financial risk. The thinking is that governments are the only ones who should keep our personnel information under lock and key. Not so, indeed as we give up our NRIC, address, email and contact numbers easily when we fill up forms for online shopping, various memberships etc, some standards of securing data should be held by companies.

 

K Box leak a wake-up call for businesses
Irene Tham
The Straits Times
Monday, Sep 22, 2014
CONSUMERS often part with personal information to get members-only perks. But the parting can be painful – when personal data is leaked and made public, as in the case of over 300,000 members of karaoke bar chain K Box.

Their names, addresses and mobile phone and identity card numbers were posted on several websites on Tuesday, purportedly by hackers protesting against upcoming toll fee hikes at Woodlands Checkpoint.

It is not known if the leak was an inside job or the result of system hacking.

But the incident is a wake- up call: Businesses either pay now to secure the personal data collected, or they may end up paying a lot more later.

“There is a high price to pay for treating the protection of consumers’ data lightly,” said Consumers Association of Singapore executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Not only will there be a loss of reputation, but negligent businesses also face a fine of up to $1 million under a newly enforced law. Even if hackers had stolen customers’ personal data, companies must take “reasonable security measures”.

The obligation is spelt out – though measures are not – in the Personal Data Protection Act, fully enforced on July 2.

Precise industry measures will take time, said lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson.

“What is reasonable or expected of a bank would most likely not be reasonable or expected of a wine store, for instance.”

So the industry will be watching as the Personal Data Protection Commission investigates the K Box leak, the biggest reported breach of personal data here.

Another case of a smaller scale being investigated by the commission involves the details of 12 customers of telco M1, which were exposed on Monday on an online form for pre-orders for the new iPhone.

The two cases might have happened under different circumstances, but it is worrying when personal data falls into the wrong hands.

What happened to technology blogger Alfred Siew, 40, could happen to anyone. On Tuesday, he got a call from someone using a private number claiming to be a loan shark.

“He read out my name and NRIC number… and threatened to harm my family unless I paid up. It was unnerving,” said Mr Siew, unable to recall if he had ever misplaced his identity card.

Police could not help. He was told instead to file a magistrate’s complaint, which may involve legal fees to prosecute the case.

Meanwhile, the K Box breach prompted some businesses to pull up their socks.

“Organisations are now more easily persuaded to take the law seriously,” said media and technology lawyer Bryan Tan, a partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay.

But more can be done.

Businesses may want to take a leaf out of IT retail chain Challenger’s book.

It keeps the names, identity card and phone numbers, as well as e-mail addresses of its more than 500,000 members in a server locked in a room, accessed by staff only via fingerprint scanning.

Cashiers can call up members’ data when members redeem points, but cashiers need to scan their fingerprints on sale terminals.

Challenger chief operating officer Ben Tan said: “This is so that we have an audit trail if there is a leak.”

itham@sph.com.sg

To Singapore, With Love, And Disappointment

Disappointment at the Singapore government and its censorship. I have not watched Tan Pin Pin’s latest film but I want to watch it if it comes out in Youtube. Despite accolades from film festivals which tells us what kind of audience the film appeals to, I had no interest in it since her films like Singapore Gaga are not engaging for me. That changed when the film was banned from public screening, but allowed for private screening. Sounds absurd but we cannot fullly fathom how bureaucrats think and that they still don’t realise that banning a film makes it even more appealing, like a forbidden fruit.

I remember Martyn See’s earlier films which were banned, like Singapore Rebel, which was about Dr Chee Soon Juan. The film was entertaining and biased in favour of SDP, which the film was upfront about. Any reasonable audience would see that message and take it with a pinch of salt, or a huge fist of salt if one supported the PAP, WP, NSP etc.

At least the censors did not ask for the film to be pulped, like certain children’s books in the national libraries. That earlier censorship story and changing access to the controversial books has lessons on this one. Add a MDA disclaimer to Tan Pin Pin’s film, or give it a R(A) rating to exclude non-mature viewers. A ban just shows that censorship is thriving still in Singapore.

 

 
Film banned: Real threat or just wounded pride
Mariam Mokhtar | September 12

A ban on a film is usually counter-productive. Borrowing a phrase from Heineken, a ban on a film has the effect of reaching the parts other films cannot reach. Singapore is a country which people around the world look up to. That is why the move to ban director, Tan Pin Pin’s award-winning film, “To Singapore, With Love”, proves that the government of Singapore is desperate, vindictive and afraid. Ironically, Singapore has ambition to be an Asian film and cultural hub.

Desperation makes people take desperate measures. In a world made smaller by Internet and social media, the banned film will now be viewed by more people than if the government had approved it for screening. The ban has inadvertently given the film a boost and generated much publicity, across the globe.

As the government of Singapore (and other autocratic nations) will discover, a ban makes people curious. Ordinary Singaporeans are like other human beings. They will want to know what it is that they have been stopped from seeing. They will become interested and want their curiosity sated.

When books are banned, a pdf version almost always pops up in cyberspace. When a film is banned, most people will attempt to find a copy of the film, to see it and judge for themselves, why the film failed to receive government approval.

The documentary “To Singapore, With Love” gives us a glimpse into the lives of nine Singaporeans, some of whom left the island in the early 1960s. One has since died, but many have not returned, simply because they would be refused entry to Singapore or like one political pundit said, “They can return…and be escorted straight to prison.”

The book “Escape from the Lion’s Paw”, sparked filmmaker Tan’s quest to find out more about the Singaporean dissidents, and to film their lives in exile.

The statement released by the Singapore Media Development Authority (MDA) said that the film was judged to “undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals”.

Although some of the older exiles in the film had joined the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) in the 1950s and 1960s, the Singapore government appears to have overlooked the 1989 Hatyai Peace Agreement, between the Malaysian government and the CPM. These former communists, who are in their 70s and 80s, are living in Thailand and are not living rough in the jungles of the peninsula, attempting to overthrow any government.
So, it is highly likely that the ban is targeted at the second group of individuals, the former student activists who went into exile in the late 1970s. This is the group which the government of Singapore really fears.

These former student activists, who were rounded up in the mid-1970s, were highlighting humanitarian and social issues, workers’ rights and the government’s neglect of certain communities. These student activists escaped being incarcerated, under Singapore’s draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) by lying low, then escaping into exile. They were later stripped of their citizenship.

The failure to capture these activists has embarrassed the Singapore government. Forty years later, the government is still sore with them. That is why the men and women have been branded “communists” or “communist sympathisers”.

These former student activists have remained vocal, with their bold criticisms of the Singapore government. The authorities are afraid that their actions will embolden ordinary Singaporeans and students to stand up for their rights and demand their various freedoms. The authorities are afraid of criticism and an open culture of free speech. These former activists have neither reformed, nor mellowed with age. These voices from the past may be the catalyst for change.

Singaporeans are just as repressed as their Malaysian counterparts. Although both countries share a common history, and perhaps, a common destiny, it may be easier to restore a true democracy in Singapore, as Malaysia is hampered by the emotional baggage comprising race, religion and royalty.

Next week, “To Singapore, With Love”, is scheduled to be screened in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, during the Freedom Film Festival, and should attract scores of Singaporeans.
Perhaps, the Singaporean government will kick up a fuss, and Najib Tun Razak, who is also flexing his autocratic muscles, by clamping down on dissenters, with his sedition dragnet, will tell his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, “You help me, I help you” and forbid the screening in Johor Bahru, under some national security pretext.

Despite its development, its stature in the financial world, its first class education system and its success as an international port, deep down, the people who run the Singapore government are as insecure as the man in a sampan, who can see a storm approaching on the horizon.

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