The Specter Haunting Singapore: Why the People's Action Party Cannot Get Over Operation Coldstore

Lecture | March 19 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, Managing Director, New Naratif

 Center for Southeast Asia Studies

The Cold War is long over, yet Southeast Asian regimes continue to obsess over communism. In Singapore, the ruling People's Action Party used the excuse of communism to arrest and detain nearly 2,500 political opponents without trial between 1959 and 1988, and has steadfastly suppressed any re-examination of these episodes of Singapore history. This talk looks at the historical significance of "Operation Coldstore" - the 1963 arrest and detention without trial of over 112 opposition politicians, trade unionists, and political activists on grounds of a communist conspiracy - for its role in Malayan history, how it has shaped Singapore's governance, and why it matters to the ruling party. The lecture then examines the current political economy of control in Singapore and what these controversies reveal about the nature of People's Action Party governance today.

Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) received his Ph.D. from Oxford University. He is a founder and Managing Director of New Naratif (, a Southeast Asian platform for research, journalism, art, and community organization. He is also a founder of Project Southeast Asia, an interdisciplinary research cluster on Southeast Asia at Oxford University. A former Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, and Olympic athlete, he is the only Singaporean to have swum the English Channel. His most recent publication is the edited volume, Living with Myths in Singapore (Ethos, 2017), co-edited with Loh Kah Seng and Jack Meng-Tat Chia., 510-642-3609