SINGAPORE: Any notion of a conspiracy on the part of Oxford Project Southeast Asia to “subvert (Singapore’s) parliamentary processes is clearly preposterous”, said Dr Philip Kreager, chair of Oxford Project Southeast Asia, in an online statement published on Tuesday (May 1).
Dr Kreager, who is also senior lecturer in Human Sciences at Somerville College at Oxford University, was responding to the statement made by the chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods Charles Chong on Monday.
Mr Chong said in his statement that the email correspondence between two trustees of the Oxford Project Southeast Asia - Professor Jeff Burley and Dr Kreager - suggests that “there has been a coordinated attempt, with foreign actors involved, to try to influence and subvert our parliamentary processes”.
He also said the email by Dr Kreager suggests the appearance of spontaneous academic support through the open letter for Dr Thum Ping Tjin is “misleading”.
“The ‘support’ seems to have been primarily engineered by Dr Thum himself, working in close concert with Dr Kreager,” Mr Chong said.
To these points, Dr Kreager said: “Members of an organisation keep each other informed of events and exchange views. Historians, like other professionals, do likewise.
“The conspiracy that Mr Chong claims to have discovered in our private correspondence exists only in his own imagination,” he added.
“VILIFICATION OF DR THUM MUST STOP”: DR KREAGER
Dr Kreager also released his response to Mr Chong’s private letter to the seven signatories of Project Southeast Asia’s online statement defending Dr Thum.
In Mr Chong’s letter, which was released on Apr 30, the chairman of the Select Committee had said it was presumptuous of the academics to tell Singapore parliamentarians how to do their jobs. He also said that “the implication that research cannot be questioned runs counter to the basic principles of free speech and academic scholarship”.
In response, Dr Kreager said: “We have not said, as your letter states, that ‘research cannot be questioned’.
“What we said was: ‘the Minister (K Shanmugam) repeatedly expressed disdain for Dr Thum’s research, rephrasing its findings in general terms that misrepresented it, and attempting to get Dr Thum to agree to those rephrasings by attempting to force him to provide only yes/no answers.”
Dr Kreager also responded to Mr Chong’s statement that it was not accurate to call Dr Thum an academic historian.
“To the contrary: He is a member of the University of Oxford whose historical research here and in Southeast Asia is a matter of public record.
“This sort of vilification of him must stop, and we reiterate our call for an apology from the Select Committee to Dr Thum for his treatment," Dr Kreager wrote.
OXFORD EXAMINERS, CO-SUPERVISORS DEFEND DR THUM'S ACADEMIC STATUS
On Wednesday, an Oxford University examiner and the joint doctoral supervisors of Dr Thum’s doctoral thesis also released a statement defending his academic status.
Dr Thum’s thesis on Chinese Language Political Mobilisation in Singapore was “written to the very highest standards of historical research that Oxford expects of its doctoral students”, said Professor Judith Brown, Emeritus Beit Professor of Commonwealth History, Dr Peter Carey, Emeritus Fellow of Trinity College, and Professor John Darwin, Emeritus Professor of Global and Imperial History.
“Dr Thum pursued his research where the historical evidence took him, without fear or favour. This conclusion is confirmed in the examiner's report which stated that it was 'a well produced thesis [...] based on an excellent understanding of the historiography relevant to the subject, and on a significant range of primary sources',” they wrote.
“As the holder of an Oxford DPhil in History and an active researcher who has produced a number of refereed academic books and journal articles on his chosen subject, Dr PJ Thum is and remains an academically trained historian.”