- POSTED: 17 Sep 2013 21:39
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Chin Peng, a former leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), died in a Bangkok hospital early Monday morning.
SINGAPORE: Chin Peng, a former leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), died in a Bangkok hospital early Monday morning.
The former communist guerilla had been living in exile in China and Thailand for several decades after failing to establish a communist state in Malaya, which later became Malaysia.
After the 1989 peace treaty, Chin Peng made several attempts to return to Malaysia but was refused entry as the memory of the bloody insurgency that he led was still strong among many Malaysians.
Chin Peng, whose real name was Ong Boon Hua, was born on October 21, 1924 in Kampong Koh, in Sitiawan, Perak.
A communist at the early age of 15, he adopted the alias because like other secret cell members, he had to conceal his true identity from the police.
Leon Comber, a former Malayan Special Branch officer who specialised in Chinese affairs during the Emergency, and C C Chin who co-edited a book titled “Dialogues with Chin Peng: New light on the Malayan communist party”, shared their views on the former Malayan communist leader.
Mr Chin is a Southeast Asia Cold War specialist and independent researcher on the Malayan Communist Party and left-wing history. He is also Adjunct Professor at the Center for Cold War International History Studies at East China Normal University, Shanghai.
He said: "Before the Japanese invasion, actually, Chin Peng was a district committee member in the Perak state, so he was not in the key leadership at that time.
“But when the Japanese began their Pacific warfare and Singapore was in the reach of facing this invasion… -- at that time in the prison, there were more than 200 MCP (Malayan Communist Party) members -- they (had) a negotiation between Lai Teck (then leader of the MCP), the secretary-general and the governor, and decided to release all these 200 members and help them… build up some kind of forces against the Japanese invasion."
Mr Comber said: "During the war Chin Peng was, even in those days, a very loyal member of the Communist Party of Malaya fighting against the Japanese and he was a great help; there is no doubt about that to the British Force 136 officers that were landed in Malaya behind the Japanese lines, either by submarine or dropped by parachute, to resist the Japanese occupation. So at that time in those days, I think the programme of the British and that of the Communist Party of Malaya coincided - that is the overthrow of the Japanese."
At the end of World War II, the British awarded Chin Peng the Order of the British Empire (OBE) -- one of Britain's highest accolades -- for leading resistance fighters against the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Malaya from 1941 to 1945.
But by then, the British had to contend with another reality.
Mr Chin explained: "It was also the worry of the British colonial government that forces existing... In fact, MCP was the only political party with an armed force of 15,000 men and it was the strongest armed political party in Southeast Asia".
In 1947, at the age of 23, Chin Peng became secretary-general of the CPM.
Mr Comber said: "He still had, or the Communist Party of Malaya still had its own agenda, which was to overthrow the British colonial rule and establish in Malaya, a People's Republic of Malaya."
Chin Peng went to the jungles to fight British colonialism and the British withdrew his wartime OBE award.
In 1948, the CPM launched a guerrilla insurgency against the colonial government to establish an independent communist state.
The British responded with military action under the Malayan Emergency.
Mr Comber said: "The emergency, the so-called Malayan Emergency which started in June 1948 and lasted right through, I think, until August 1960… There was a war, an undeclared war but for various reasons, the British colonial government didn't refer to this as a war but as an emergency."
He continued: "Chin Peng was never captured. He remained in the jungle throughout that period until the Communist Party of Malaya was pushed back across the frontier into south Thailand, probably around 1959… and the CEC (Central Executive Committee), the Communist Party of Malaya was based in south Thailand but there he was and there were his followers there, the regiments which made up the anti-British army."
From the jungles along the Malaysian-Thai border, sporadic violence continued.
In 1961, Chin Peng moved to China and remained there for 28 years.
Four decades would pass before the CPM signed a Thai-brokered peace treaty with Malaysia, which happened less than a month after the Berlin Wall came down.
Chin Peng returned to Hat Yai city, Thailand, to sign the Peace Agreement in 1989.
Mr Chin said: "At the beginning when the peace accord was allowed, whoever wanted to request to come back, the Malaysia government had agreed to receive them. But all the (CPM) leaders actually did not apply. And then when they decided to come back (it) was almost ten years later, (and) the Malaysian government refused. So it became, whether the Malaysian government should honour or do not honour the agreement -- it became a dilemma."
Chin Peng's death has reignited the debate -- what will historians say about his legacy?
Mr Chin said: "I think as a historian, I look at it (this way) - you have to be very fair to the people who actually embarked themselves on an ideological struggle and carried to the end.
“So this is how I look at the situation - the ups and downs, there is right and wrong, there are many things to be properly, what you call, examined, and then come to a proper conclusion."
Mr Comber met Chin Peng in Canberra, Australia in 1999.
He said: "Well, there were the civilians, of course, who lost their lives here ... very unfortunate indeed, it’s not only the opposing sides, I mean the armed forces on both sides, but ... obviously innocent civilians also were caught in the crossfire and many lost their lives and I think that is something which can never be forgotten."
Chin Peng's body will be moved from hospital to That Thong temple on September 20, while Thai ceremonies and his funeral and cremation will take place on September 23.