Photo of Charles Chong from Straits Times

After being criticised by academics around the world for being a hypocrite, the Select Committee yesterday (Apr 17) hit back continuing their assault on Oxford historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin’s credibility. Chairman of Select Committee PAP MP Charles Chong wrote that the historian was misleading and dishonest, and that his testimonial on history is a “political piece”.

The PAP MP also denied that the Select Committee was intimidating, but MP Charles Chong was careful not to mention that no one else was subjected to a 6-hour interrogation.

You may read his reply in full here:

“In his written representation to our Committee, Dr Thum alleged that the Singapore Government is the chief source of fake news in Singapore. He specifically referred to Operation Coldstore, and charged that the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was the primary liar.

Dr Thum is entitled to his views. But when he puts them before a Select Committee, he must expect to be questioned about them. And indeed Dr Thum wrote that he was willing to appear before us. It is therefore surprising that the letter suggests Dr Thum was questioned ‘without warning’.

The open letter also said that the Committee’s treatment of Dr Thum has wider implications for freedom of expression and academic freedom in Singapore. His response were misplaced.

more than 20 local and foreign academics had given oral evidence, several were questioned “at length” and some disagreed with members of the Committee.

All were forthright in their views and I would be very surprised if any of them were intimidated by the process. To be sure, individual members of our Committee did not always agree with the academics who gave evidence to us. But we all benefited from the learning they brought to bear on the questions before us. Legislators all over the world regularly have robust exchanges with witnesses, including academics. Mr Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, has just finished two days of questioning by US congressional committees. I do not understand why a special immunity is being claimed for academic historians.

It was Dr Thum who chose to use the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods to make a political point about Operation Coldstore – a security operation that took place 55 years ago before the Internet existed.

Having done so, he cannot then plead that his claims should not be questioned, or that he should not be judged on his answers.

It was not an academic dissertation but a political piece. There is nothing wrong with political activism in itself. But it is odd to make political points – as Dr Thum did – and then hide behind the shield of academia when questioned.

The authors of the open letter, who were not named, to look more carefully at the actual answers Dr Thum gave at the hearing, noting that the historian had made a number of concessions. He had agreed that his writings were misleading in parts, that he had not read the writings of some former leaders of the Communist Party of Malaysia, and that he had disregarded the views of Malayan Communist leader Chin Peng.

These concessions substantially undermined his thesis that Operation Coldstore was launched purely for party political advantage. As the letter points out, none of us on the Committee are trained historians. We only read Dr Thum’s written representation when it came in in February. We asked him to defend a claim that he had put to us,” he added.

If Dr Thum could not defend his claims under questioning, surely this must reflect on the quality of his writings and research, not the process?”