I wrote this article last year when I saw there was an attempt to skew history, partly for political gains, and partly because of ignorance of our history. I found it disheartening, too, when people representing the government did not do a good job at explaining who PKMM, or API, or AWAS were in relation to the rise of Malay nationalism, in relation to the struggle this nation from the clutches of the British. Were they really freedom fighters, or were they fighting for Malaya to be part of something bigger?
Very early one morning as I prepared to go to school, I could hear a distant dull explosion, followed a bit later by the rattle of the window panes. It was 1975, 7 years into the Second Emergency. It preceded the assassination of the then Chief Police Officer of Perak, Tan Sri Khoo Chong Kong (November 1975), and in turn was preceded by the assassination of the then Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim. These events were among the reasons that drove me to serve in the Malaysian Armed Forces and managed to join the later part of the Second Emergency campaign.
The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) has its roots from the South Seas Communist Party (SSCP), otherwise known as the Nanyang Communist Party, that was headquartered in Singapore. The latter was formed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1922. Since communism was introduced to this region by Dutch radicals, the SSCP’s theater of operations were mainly focused in the Dutch East Indies, infiltrating trades unions and disrupting lives. The SSCP attempted an uprising in 1925 which was crushed by the Dutch East Indies authorities and retreated to Singapore where they grouped up. In 1930, the SSCP was dissolved and the Communist Party of Malaya was born.
We all know what happened during the post-war years preceding the First Malayan Emergency. But let me add a point to make people understand a fact here. In my Twitter profile, I described myself as …not prejudiced. I hate everyone equally. This is to show my political stand (or the virtual absence of it). I have friends on both sides of the political fence. One thing I cannot stand is stupidity and blind loyalty. The left-leaning side (depending on which compass direction you are facing) claims that the Tunku, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Mahathir were not freedom fighters. They have been accused as British lackeys, serving the Colonial government’s interests. I guess I will have to forgive them for their lack of knowledge in history before I bludgeon any of them for their sheer stupidity, but:
Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir all came from the states of Kedah, Pahang and Johor. When were these states under Colonial rule at any time other than during the brief Malayan Union period?
I should bludgeon the right-leaning side as well for not noticing the above for their defence. Shame on you.
The CPM was organised into the Malayan People’s Anti-British Army but changed that to the Malayan People’s Liberation Army (MPLA) with the aim to set-up the People’s Democratic Republic of Malaya (and Singapore). I guess most of us know the connotation of the name, and countries that had inherited the name, such as the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (aka North Korea).
The MPLA was supported by the CPM’s civilian organisation named Min Yuen. This organisation organised supplies for the MPLA.
The first Malayan General Elections was held in 1955, and Malaya had its first Chief Minister: Tunku Abdul Rahman, whose first act was to bring peace to the nation by declaring partial amnesty to members of the CPM. This partial amnesty was called off 6 months later with only 17 members of the CPM surrendering.
I will also not dwell so much on the details of the First Emergency (1948-1960), but for those not in the know, there was the first National Service registration in the late 1950s after we gained our independence. Some 240,000 registered to combat the communists, or 17 percent of the 1.4 million inhabitants of Malaya then. 20,000 were called up, but only 1500 reported for training. All of them were absorbed into the Federation of Malaya Police Force.
Then, there was a second National Service registration in 1958, but those registered were never called up because by then the members of the CPM realised that the independent Government of the Federation of Malaya, headed by the Tunku and backed by the parties representing the Malays, Chinese and Indians, was not offering any more amnesty and was adamant to obliterate the CPM. This drove the members to surrender by the hundreds, wave after wave, that in the middle of 1958 the CPM, whose MPLA was active only in Perak and South Johor by 1957, had to fall back to the Thai side of the border. Chin Peng and his Central Executive Committee had of course retreated in 1953 when the tide started to turn against the CPM.
In 1960, the Government of the Federation of Malaya declared the Malayan Emergency (First Emergency) over.
I WILL WRITE ABOUT THE CPM IN THE 1960s AND THE SECOND EMERGENCY
After the failure of the Communist Party of Malaya’s (CPM) revolt against British colonial rule and the subsequent independent Federation of Malaya’s government, the CPM retreated almost in full to Southern Thailand. In 1961, Chin Peng, leader of the CPM moved to China and sought support from Beijing. Deng Xiaoping, who was the most influential Chinese leader of the time although he never held any head of state office, promised Chin Peng a sum of US$100,000 in support of the CPM’s struggle.
In 1963, when Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore chose to join the Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia, Indonesia objected violently by launching a campaign to lynch the newly-formed country out of existence dubbed “Ganyang Malaysia.” The CPM joined the Indonesian forces to fight against the people of Malaysia.
On New Year’s Day in 1968, the Communist Party of China launched the “Cultural Revolution”. The CPM, taking this as a queue and in conjunction with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the first Malayan Emergency, issued on 1st June 1968 a directive: “Hold High the Great Red Banner of Armed Struggle and Valiantly March Forward.” The first act, 16 days later, was to ambush the security forces and murdered 17 of its members in the Kroh area in Perak. Thus begins the Second Emergency. A year later, with the support of the Communist Party of China, the CPM began transmitting “Suara Revolusi Malaya” from the Hunan province, aimed to gather momentum and support from sleeper-agents, CPM members in South Thailand, and communist symphatizers who remained at large.
When Malaysia and Singapore parted ways, the DAP took up the role of the PAP. There were demonstrations and strikes almost on a weekly basis organised by the DAP. With the party being predominantly Chinese, race relations took a toll. This fact was successfully exploited by the CPM. The CPM indoctrinated people at all levels: Chinese civil servants, student leaders, trades unionists, the non-Malay members of the Armed Forces and Police, the middle classes with their ideology. All it did was to portray that the malays dominated the political scene while the chinese and Indians were relegated to being second-class citizens. Does this ring a bell? By 1969, the damage to race relations was just waiting for the final straw to break its back.
Those who were born after 1970 will never be able to recall how a curfew siren sounds like, but this writer had had that experience of rushing home (our quarters was not only fenced up using the normal chain-link fence, the perimeter chain-link fence was covered in total by barbed wire) every time the siren sounded. Those were the days when our boys in blue had to fight on two fronts: against the communists, and against the common criminal.
Fresh from the race riots of May 1969, the government felt that it could not afford any more ethnic antipathy. During the First (Malayan) Emergency, the setting up of New Villages by order of General Templer caused other races to look at the Chinese population as communist-symphatizers, when the truth was far from it. The government of Malaysia rightfully did not declare the Second Emergency as one, but instead learned from the Briggs Plan that the only way to win the war against the communists was through the tandem improvement of security and development: KESBAN – Keselamatan dan Pembangunan (Security and Development).
KESBAN was carried out to protect the people from subversion, insurgency and a state of lawlessness. It saw the coordination of all agencies from kampung level all the way up. I had had the opportunity to work under Tan Sri Yuen Yuet Leng (one of the heroes of Operation Ginger during the First Emergency), who as the Chief Police Officer of Perak, had to fight not just the war against the communists but also against common criminals. He related to me how, when the police force was stretched thin in Perak, called all the head of gangsters in Perak and appointed them as Rukun Tetangga heads.
“They were born leaders with natural leadership skills. All I had to do was channel those skills to positive use.”
The newly-appointed Rukun Tetangga heads were given the task to uphold the law and maintain peace and order. Any gang member found breaking the law would be surrendered to the police, else the leader will be arrested. This ploy work, crime was drastically reduced, and the police had a freer hand in combatting the communist terrorists in Perak.
The Rukun Tetangga (Neighbourhood Watch) was born out of KESBAN. It saw people of all races work together to keep their neighbourhood peaceful; but what it did most was to foster a good relationship and understanding between races. People were more tolerant of each other back then than they are now. Mind you, it was around half a decade after the race riots of 1969. No one, save for a few, cared whether one was Malay, Indian or Chinese, or Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Tao or Hindu. They were all Malaysians back then.
KESBAN also allowed for development to reach the rural areas; where there was no electricity, some kampungs began to enjoy at least 12-hour electricity supply per day, with the police and military guarding the power supply network from the occasional sabotage by the CPM. Once more rural areas were developed and connected, the communist terrorists moved further deep inside the jungle.
KESBAN would not have been possible had it not been for the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Malaysia. In February 1972, US President Nixon established diplomatic ties with Communist China in order to stem the influence of the Soviet Union in East Asia. The late Tun Abdul Razak did so in 1974. China warmed up to Malaysia. Everywhere the Malaysian delegation went, children lined up the streets waving the flags of both nation.
One must remember that back in 1961, Chin Peng had gone to meet with Deng Xiaoping. The latter enjoyed strong support in the Communist Party of China but was not in good terms with Chairman Mao. The diplomatic ties between Mao and Razak was in a way a hint to Chin Peng and Deng. The CPM retaliated with the assissination of Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim, the then Inspector-General of Police a week later.
Due to the relationship between China and Malaysia, in October 1974, the CPM saw a split in its ranks, and eventually a split in the organisation. The CPM Marxist-Leninist, a splinter group leaning towards the Soviet Union was born. This group was then renamed the Malayan People’s Liberation Army.
IN PART 3 I WILL WRITE MORE ON THE SECOND EMERGENCY TO ITS EVENTUAL COLLAPSE