Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 24. 26th September 1973

The History behind De Silva's Threats

page 7

The History behind De Silva's Threats

Diplomats fall in the same category as public utilities like toilets and sewers. Every so often, these utilities tend to break-down and all hell breaks loose as the shit oozes out.

Malaysian students studying in NZ, it has been claimed, 'have been subverted by communist propaganda' and further 'that a foreign, power' is behind it all' and that the subversive movement was 'playing on Chinese chauvinism'.

Quite often, when one reads these familiar phrases — 'foreign power', 'Communist subversion', 'national security', and so on, one tends to be very much suspicious that one is not reading the thoughts of a live human being but more so, of a dummy. The appropriate thoughts ooze out as varied sounds from the larynx, but the brain is rarely involved in the process. And it is this sort of retarded consciousness that is very much a part of political conformism.

However, the recent revelations of the Malay-siar.. High Commissioner have taken its toll. A very real fear seems to permeate the minds of many Malaysian students at this University. Within the little huddled groups in the cafeteria, there is talk of 'surveillance' of deviant students by hacks in the pay of the High Commission; of a 'black-list', of possible repercussions when students return home to Malaysia and so on. Big Brother is watching and 1984 becomes very real.

The Malaysian High Commission has had a long history of influencing Malaysian student studying in New Zealand. A brief survey of the history of MSA/MSSA reinforces this assertion. Prior to 1963, there were two associations, the old Malayan Students Association and the Borneo Students Association. In 1964, with the coming into being of Malaysia (in 1963) by mutual agreement, both associations were dissolved and the Malaysian Students Association was formed with Singapore students being an integral part of that association. However, in 1965 Singapore became a republic with its separation from the Malaysian agreement. Consequently, in 1966, the association changed its name by resolution at an AGM to MSSA. With this act, the ground was laid for the events that followed. The first signs of intrusion by the Malaysian High Commission into this area came in June 1969 when the Director of the Malaysian Students Department of the Malaysian High Commission for Australia and New Zealand (which was at that point based in Sydney) wrote to a group of Malaysian students at Auckland university to the effect:

'I am to reiterate our advice as contained in our letter....wherein we stated that all Malaysian students are to take whatever steps necessary towards the formation of associations exclusively of Malaysians, with provisions for associate membership to non-Malaysians who are interested in Malaysian affairs.'

Subsequently, at the AGM of the Auckland University MSSA. the association resolved by 224 to 14 not to split into separate Malaysian and Singaporean groups as advised by the Sydney office. However, on the initiative of a group of students, MSA eventually came into being. The Sydney office responded by sending a cable of recognition which meant in fact that all Malaysian students would have to join MSA if they wished to lease with the High Commission for any reason whatsoever (if not the private students, certainly the scholarship ones had to do so). Interestingly, the MSA came into being despite the findings of an Investigations Committee which reported that:

'We have found that the formation of such an association as MSA would be interpreted by most Malaysian students in Auckland as a political move and would also be detrimental to the existence of the MSSA.'

During the same period, it was reported in the bulletin of the National Union of Malaysian—Singaporean Students of Australia (NUMSSA) that directives had been received from the Di rector of the Students Department of the Malaysian High Commission in Sydney demanding the formation of the Malaysian Students Association, 'to promote national unity ....in each and every state of Australia.'

The scene shifts now to Massey, where in April 1971, the Evening Standard reported:

'A senior Malaysian student said in an inter view last night that he had been indirectly offered about $1500 to start a Malaysian Stu dents Association (MSA) at Massey University... The student said he had been told that a sum of about $1500 was given by the Malaysian Government to a student starting a Malaysian Students Association at Cantebury University, and there was no reason why a similar thing would not happen at Massey.'

The Malaysian High Commission subsequently replied by describing the allegations 'as com pletely groundless and preposterous.' At Victoria during the same period, the VUW Studass moved a motion which was passed among furious discussion, 'denying all its facilities to the MSA as an organisation.' The then President of the VUW Studass, to his credit, stated 'it would seem to me that the AGM did itself no honour in passing a motion proposing to refuse the MSA the rights to use any of the Union facilities. I seem to have been under the illusion that the union was to be regarded as a forum of free speech and that means anybody can say any thing.' Subsequently, the motion was rescinded at a SGM held two weeks later.

In Christchurch the MSSA began to fade away with the emergence of MSA. Among the benefits the association reaped, was a large club house paid for by the High Commission. At Otago, 'the concept of parochialism has been decisively rejected with the formation of the Chinese Language Club.'

Perhaps the main theme hammered out by the Malaysian students in support of MSA has been the desire to 'foster a spirit of unity and identity', 'to promote a favourable Malaysian image', 'to assist Malaysian students' and so on. It is this very sort of attitude that revolves around the kind of parochialism exemplified by the concept of 'national identity' that has been the major contributing factor to the sort of political fragmentation that has afflicted Malaysian and Singaporean students in NZ.

It might prove entertaining at this point to refer to Mr De Silva's remarks as reported in the Marlborough Express on September 11:

"I am faintly amused at Mr Chan's attempt to appeal to the New Zealander's liberal sentiments. What about a liberal attitude to Malaysian students? Why are they continually smeared as running dogs of the Malaysian High Commission?"

Answering the question himself, he said:

"It is merely because the Malaysian Student Associations throughout this country do not toe the pseudo-revolutionary line of the bogus revolutionaries who are installed in key positions in the NZUSA and some other University Unions in this country."

The major course of Mr De Silva's sudden hysterical rantings was the 'Eastern Cultural Concert' organised by the Chinese Language Club of Otago University which toured the four centres during the August holidays. The programme described the concert as depicting the 'culture of the Malay peninsula. Singapore and Sarawak." De Silva, on the other hand, saw it fit, to interpret it as 'containing vicious propaganda, similar to that used by the banned Malaysian Communist Party and the Barisan Socialis (Socialist Front) in Singapore.'

The Otago Chinese Language Club in its recent press release has denied having, as De Silva claimed, received any financial assistance whatsoever from any foreign power. In one instance, the Club pointed out, the two huge paintings which formed the background scheme of two items were actually made up of 48 bed sheets contributed generously and painted by the students themselves. Also, it pointed out, several items that appeared in the show had been performed in Malaysia. This fact merely bears out the falsity of De Silva's allegation.

Much of the fear that now appears to haunt quite a number of Malaysian students in the light of the High Commissioner's remarks, is not altogether fanciful. This is particularly so when one refers to De Silva's assertion that "Active participation, if any, in the organising or in the cast of such shows, with its back-up of revolutionary propaganda literature, would constitute active participation in a political movement aimed at overthrowing the Constitution of our country and the rule of law." Also, he "reserved the right to take any steps necessary to combat the subversion of Malaysian students by arm chair revolutionaries in New Zealand."

In Malaysia, the 1948 Sedition Act which was amended after the May 1969 riots, prohibits utterances or printed statements which appear to question i) the special position of the Malays and other indigenous groups; ii) Malay as the national language iii) the citizenship rights of any ethnic groups and iv) the rights and sovereignty of the Malay rulers (Sultans and Kings). The powers of the law extend also to inflicting penalties on the importation or publication of materials expressing certain views or doctrines. Reports, to this effect have it that a considerable quantity of material is confiscated annually.

The Internal Security Act includes a chapter 'relating to the Power of Preventive Detention' which specifies that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King), "if satisfied with respect to any person that, with a view to preventing that person from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to the maintenance of public order or essential services therein, it is necessary to do so, the Minister may make an order— (a) directing that such person be detained for any period not exceeding two years (this may be extended for a further period or periods not exceeding two years at a time) or (b) imposing restrictions in respect of his activities and place of residence and employment; prohibit him from travelling beyond the limits of the country, prohibit him from being out of doors between such hours as may be specified in the order, and prohibit him from addressing public meetings or from holding office in, or taking part in the activities of or acting as adviser to any organisation or association, or from taking part in any political activities," to name a few.

Jack de Silva

Jack de Silva

A survey of the newspaper reports of the activities in NZ during the past weeks merely re inforces the very strong current of fear experienced by Malaysian students. Thus, to refer to the Straits Times (Malaysian edition) of September 11, 1973:

"The Government is taking a serious view of the attempts to subvert Malaysian students in NZ, a Foreign Office Spokesman said here today."

"We are trying to get more information on student activities in NZ," he added.

"The Government can take action against students attempting to subvert other students."

"Certain groups of students are against the concept of Malaysia. They have been out of the country for many years and are out of touch with conditions here."

A further illustration perhaps of the sort of threat that has become quite commonplace being the remarks of the Prime Minister a few years back:

"Whoever talks or takes any step which reveal that they have subversive and treacherous intention, then we shall take the action against them as we did against the communists."

"I like to see if we can make an example of these traitors."

Jack's remarks are, as one may note, quite in keeping with the kind of pretentious language that is often used.

AIso, under the Malaysian Constitution, there are very few institutional restraints on the exercise of power by the Federal Government, so long as it commands a decisive majority in Parliament. While the Constitution enumerates a number of fundamental rights, 'these may be limited or suspended by an ordinary legislative enactment.' Thus, if democracy and individual liberty are to be preserved, it depends upon the self-restraints of the Federal Government.

In Malaysia, national identity has 'evolved around primordial concepts of race, language and/or religion,' and likewise, the Malaysian constitution reflects the division of political and economic power between the major ethnic groups in the country. One major obstacle, it has been pointed out, to achieving any kind of solution, 'has been the total absence of any initiative in encouraging or even permitting an objective study and analysis of the varying sociological and historical factors involved in the three prim ordial ly-based behaviour systems, which have shaped the attitudes and behaviour of the major communal groups in Malaysia.' The prevailing attitude has been summed up quite appropriately as 'if we don't think about it, don't recognise it, and just ignore it, it will eventually go away.'

In this theatre of multi-ethnic, 'zero-sum game', communal politics, it becomes a little easier to understand the emotions and fears that have been evoked as a consequence of the High Commissioner's threat. The perimeter of vision becomes more restricted as the sense of powerlessness solidifies, a powerlessness in respect of changing the state of affairs evoked by the ideology or complexity, a powerlessness quite often hidden underneath a facade of frivolity and complacency. Things happen thus, because of a combination of fate and manipulation.

A Malaysian student's letter which appeared in The Press of September 12, noted quite appropriately, 'returning students educated in NZ. are critical of the Government's tactics to politicise socio-economic problems into 'sensitive issues' not to be discussed, and to polarise otherwise horizontal strata along vertical lines or 'race'. The Government's reaction to this 'opposition' is to suppress the symptoms like 'communism' and 'student subversion' in the wishful hope that the fundamental problems would be forgotten.' He signed it 'Sarawak's George Orwell'.

Recently a delegation headed by the President of NZUSA Stephen Chan, forwarded a nine-page submission to the Prime Minister requesting 'an investigation of the activities of the High Commission, with a view to the withdrawal of recognition of his diplomatic cred entials.' However, as far as impressions go, not much should be expected. 'Subversion', as it was pointed out at the meeting with the Foreign Affairs Secretary, is quite a common occurrence and while it may not be of any significance in the NZ context, in such vital areas as South East Asia where the communist threat is a living thing, you know....

It remains only to hope that students will not permit the issue to die out a natural death. (Refer Dominion, September 19 — 'that the High Commissioner has been directed to 'play it down'.') What is called for then, is the strengthening of the student bodies in a renewed effort to vigorously oppose any further efforts on the part of the High Commissioner or any Government representative to intimidate students studying in NZ. In this united front, lies our only hope.


Means, G.P. Malaysian

Politics pg 413.


Snider, N.L. Asian Survey

December. 1970, pg 1073.