Chin Peng and the Dignity of Man

The Sulu terrorists who were shot dead by our security forces when they made the incursion into Lahad Datu earlier this year were also buried on Malaysian soil. Did they deserve that? Did they deserve it more than Chin Peng, who fought for our country’s independence, whereas they came to seize our land?

Kee Thuan Chye

The dignity of man. That was what Chin Peng bargained for at the Baling Talks held in 1955 with Tunku Abdul Rahman, David Marshall and a few others in a bid to negotiate peace. And because they would not grant him and his comrades of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) that, because they would not accord them dignity but instead insist that they surrender and subject themselves to detention, the talks failed.
I have read the transcript of the Baling Talks several times, and can vouch that Chin Peng was serious about peace and about coming out of the jungle to participate in the ensuing legitimate democratic process. He also appeared genuine in his intent and dignified in his approach to the negotiations. If you don’t believe what I say, do read the transcript. It will open your eyes.
You will see that Chin Peng and his comrades were willing to lay down their arms and take their places in society. He asked for the CPM to be allowed to take part in democratic elections, but although the Tunku admitted that the CPM’s manifesto was “quite good”, it could not do so. It had to be disbanded.
Chin Peng agreed to compromise. But when he asked how he and his comrades would be treated when they came out of the jungle, the Tunku told him they would be detained “for a certain period” and investigated.
Asked how long the detention would be, the Tunku did not give a specific answer. “The length of detention will only be for as long as is necessary to carry out the investigation” was all he would say.
To Chin Peng, however, “this question of restriction of freedom … is a question of principle”. And he, therefore, could not accept it.
He added: “For the dignity of man, if this principle is insisted upon, then we can only carry on with the struggle.”
Marshall then asked him: “… but what are you struggling for?”
“It is very simple,” Chin Peng reiterated, “just for the dignity of man.”
Marshall failed to understand what Chin Peng meant by “the dignity of man”. Chin Peng clarified it for him: “While we are in the jungle, we are free. Why should we come out to be detained?”
But more than that, I think “the dignity of man” also included social justice, which was one of the ideals upheld by the CPM. Furthermore, Chin Peng was not willing to submit himself and his men to what was still not a liberated Malayan government. Let’s not forget, it was 1955 – internal security and national defence were still under the British, which meant that the CPM, on surrendering, would be detained under their control. He probably didn’t trust the British to accord the CPM due respect.
He promised the Tunku that when the latter’s Malayan government were given charge of internal security and national defence, the CPM would no longer call itself “National Liberation Army”. The CPM’s fight was “for the independence of Malaya”, he said, so once the Malayan government was independent, the CPM would no longer fight against it.
That being so, Chin Peng again made a case for no detention, no restriction of movement. He asked that he and his comrades be allowed to go home. If this was granted, it would be acceptable for the Government to investigate them. “But if we were to be enclosed in one place and investigations are carried out, that amounts to surrender,” he said.
Again, he showed he was willing to compromise. But as it turned out, the Tunku was not. He insisted that “as far as restriction of movement is concerned, we must have it”. He also repeated at the end of the talks the sentiment he had expressed at its beginning: “Unfortunately, although you do not like the word ‘surrender’, I have got to be frank with you and say that you have got to surrender.”
This left Chin Peng with no choice. He had already stated: “If you demand our surrender, we would prefer to fight to the last man.” So he left the talks a disappointed man.
But what about the Tunku? Was he disappointed?
According to journalist Said Zahari, who was covering the talks for Utusan Melayu, he managed to ask the Tunku that question after the proceedings had ended. Only he and Umno man Syed Jaafar Albar were present when the Tunku replied, “No, no, not at all. I never wanted it to be a success.”
Only recently – a few years ago – Said came out to reveal this. He did not include what the Tunku said when he wrote his report in 1955, because Syed Albar advised him against making it public. So we never got to know the Tunku’s real intent.
In hindsight, however, we can now infer that the British were dead against recognising the CPM and allowing it to be part of the Malayan political landscape because that might have jeopardised their economic interests, and the Tunku was using the talks to prove to the British that he could be uncompromising with the CPM as this would favour him in his negotiations for independence, which he flew to London for right after Baling.
Whetever it was, Chin Peng got played out.
And although he was to be played out again a few times afterwards, for example, when he made numerous unsuccessful attempts to settle in Malaysia after the Government had signed a peace agreement with the CPM in 1989, it seems he never compromised his dignity.
Even now, after his death on September 16, the dignity appears intact. In his farewell letter to his comrades and compatriots published by Malaysiakini, he wrote: “… I wish to be remembered simply as a good man who could tell the world that he had dared to spend his entire life in pursuit of his own ideals to create a better world for his people. It is irrelevant whether I succeeded or failed, at least I did what I did.”
This is the kind of dignity that the Malaysian Government cannot profess to have. It dishonoured the terms of the 1989 peace agreement by, first, not allowing Chin Peng to come home the numerous times he applied to do so, and now it shows lack of dignity for not even allowing his ashes to be brought back.
For this deplorable display, it has rightly earned the criticism of former Inspector-General of Police Rahim Noor, who headed the Malaysian team that negotiated the peace agreement. In barring Chin Peng’s ashes from being brought back, he said, “we are making Malaysia a laughing stock to the whole world”.
To make matters worse, the ruling party propaganda rag Utusan Malaysia came out last weekend with a story speculating that Chin Peng didn’t die on September 16. Based on the say-so of an anonymous source, it said he had actually died the day before and “certain parties” had manipulated it such that his death would be commemorated with the birth of Malaysia! The report is unsubstantiated, and the anonymous source could be anyone just saying it.
To spin it further, Utusan quotes the source as saying that Chin Peng’s farewell letter is dangerous because its call to youths to “struggle for idealism” may bring “more (security) threats to the country, especially among the youths”. That’s a laugh. Why doesn’t the source interpret Chin Peng’s call as a positive one instead, seeing idealism as something young people should always strive for? When has idealism become a negative and dangerous value?
This is the sort of sentiment that informs the stand of the Government in not allowing Chin Peng’s ashes to be brought into the country, as expressed last week by Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his deputy, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar. They are afraid that supporters will build a shrine where the ashes are buried and it will spark a revival of communism in Malaysia.
This is not only almost as ridiculous as the claim made by the Utusan’s so-called source; it also shows what an insecure government we have.
Noordin Top was a Jemaah Islamiah terrorist who masterminded the bombings that led to the deaths of innocents in Jakarta and Bali, but his remains were allowed to be brought home in 2009 to be buried in Pontian. Was the Government not afraid that his burial ground would become a shrine to Muslim extremism?
The Sulu terrorists who were shot dead by our security forces when they made the incursion into Lahad Datu earlier this year were also buried on Malaysian soil. Did they deserve that? Did they deserve it more than Chin Peng, who fought for our country’s independence, whereas they came to seize our land?
Is it not enough that our government lacks dignity? Must it also lack logic? Where is its sense of social justice, its kinship with the dignity of man?
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.