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Did Subhas Chandra Bose die in 1945?

More than any of the other grand collaborators of the Second World War, Bose proves how dangerous is that maxim that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’.  By June, 1945 powerful men close to the Emperor had begun to explore ways of ending the war without losing the imperial institution. Some of them reached out the Soviet union unaware that Stalin had pledged to enter the war against Japan on the side of the Allies.  Then at the beginning of August, the Americans dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima then Nagasaki – and on 12 August, the Emperor at last advised his cabinet that Japan had no choice but to surrender. Although the Minister of War the ultranationalist General Anami Korechika and other hawks hoped to continue fighting, the wishes of the Emperor prevailed.  Bose was in Malaya when he heard the news about the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and decided at once to make contact with the Soviets. Although, as he rightly suspected, there were widening rifts between the ‘Big Three’, it is inconceivable that the Russians would have rushed to eject the British from India. On the eve of his departure, he told the Japanese that the […]
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Lai Tek.. the story continues

After the fall of Singapore, Lai Tek the ethnic Vietnamese Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and Special Branch agent and informer went into hiding. But in March, a Chinese detective working for Special Branch betrayed him for reasons that have never been made clear and he was arrested and taken to the Kempeitai headquarters at the YMCA building in Stamford Road. He was clearly considered a very high value prize. No doubt vigorously interrogated, Lai Tek broke – or so it seemed. To save his life, he promised to work as a secret agent for the Kempeitai.  For the Japanese, Lai Tek’s treachery was a marvellous strategic gift. A high ranking Kempeitai officer Major Satoro Onishi was assigned as his case officer. Contact would be made through a café on the Orchard Road or Lee Yem Kong, a Chinese photographer who had been ‘turned’ before the invasion and worked for the Japanese as an interpreter. Now Lai Tek had to try his story on his comrades in the MCP: he claimed that he had picked up early on in the purge and, thankfully, released after ten days. Many of his party admirers accepted this story because it […]
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Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose returns to Asia…

On a fiercely hot and sticky Monday morning in March, 2007,  I set out for the ‘Netaji Centre’ in downtown Kuala Lumpur. The Centre which is devoted to the memory of Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose occupied a few dusty rooms in an nondescript shop house in India Town. near the lovely old mosque on the Klang. In the hot sun, the streets pulse with colour. Every shop front is painted an intense green or yellow or red. The Centre is up a very dark flight of stairs. Sitting in the gloom at the top is Lt. Das, a wizened veteran of the Indian National Army. He has forgotten the key to office and we are waiting for the director of the centre who will, he promised, be along shortly. Lt. Das is old and frail, his deeply wrinkled face a rich mahogany brown. As we wait, he deflects my question about the INA to deprecate Gandhi – speaking as if the Mahatma was still alive. ‘He was an evil man,’ says Das with a shudder. At last we are let into the office. It’s very dark. On the wall, I can just make out a dark hued studio portrait […]
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Comparing Japanese and German invasions…

It is tempting to view the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia through the prism of European history in the same period. The Japanese are seen as analogous to the Germans; the Kempeitai to the Gestapo; Asian nationalists who made deals with the Japanese to Quisling like collaborators; and the mainly Chinese guerrillas to the resistance. These analogies have some validity. The Japanese state that emerged after the Meiji Restoration was consciously modelled on Prussia. Japan was as nationalist, imperialist and aggressive as Imperial Germany. Its fledgling democracy was vulnerable to military cliques. Excessive reverence for the Emperor sanctioned  a multitude of imperialist atrocities. The Japanese rationalised conquest of other Asian nations as a right granted by their own racial superiority. Japan was the natural leader of all Asiatic peoples. These analogies become less convincing for one very significant reason. German occupiers deceitfully appealed to the nationalist sentiments of chauvinist Europeans whose nations had been occupied by the Soviet Union (by agreement with Germany) and who shared their vile hatred of Jews. To be sure, the Japanese regarded all Chinese civilians in Southeast Asia as ‘hostiles’ and used violence to neutralise this purported threat. The difference with the Shoah is that […]
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The First Filipino

  I spotted this plaque here in Berlin. It is dedicated to José Rizal… I am looking at the uneven emergence of nationalism across Southeast Asia. Here is a draft of a few paragraphs about the Philippines… A precocious anti colonial movement had emerged in the Philippines at the end of the 19th Century. To a significant degree, this precocity reflected the declining power of Spain, which had already lost its South American empire to Creole nationalists. Named after Felipe II, the Philippines were the last acquisition of the Spanish Empire and in many respects an imperial sideshow. The indigenous Filipinos lived in small communities called barangays under datus or chiefs. There were no armed states for the first Spanish colonists to contend with so ‘conquest’ was a slam dunk.  The Spanish made their fortunes not by exploiting natural resources like spices or tin but from the ‘Galleon trade’ with China. Chinese silks and porcelains were exchanged for Mexican silver to be sold for immense profit in the Americas and Europe. Although Islam was making inroads on the southern island of Mindanao, Buddhism and Hinduism were unknown. Most Filipinos that the Spanish encountered were animists, and ripe for conversion by the […]
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Lai Tek 2

To understand how the Singapore Special Branch contrived the appointment of their agent at the very top of the banned MCP we need to go back to Lai Tek’s first steps on the political stage of Southeast Asia. We now know that he was born in Saigon in 1903 – then the capital of the federated French colony of Indochina. His father was Vietnamese, his mother Chinese. This means that his ethnicity would have been described as métis, or in Vietnamese minh huong. Leon Comber points out that there remains uncertainty about his birth name: it may have been Nguyen Van Long or Hoang A Nhac. Vietnamese communists have claimed, convincingly it seems, that Lai Tek was born not in Saigon but further south in Ba Ria and that his original name was Pham Van Dac. He studied at the Petrus Ky Lycée in Saigon. These sources also said that when Pham Van Dak, as Lai Tek was probably called, became a communist he was known as ‘Lai rac’. He had at one time, he claimed, been forced to flee French Indochina for Thailand. It is not uncommon for Vietnamese to use different names in different circumstances but it seems […]
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The strange story of Lai Tek 1

With thanks to Dr. Leon Comber… Sometime in 1935, a stocky, dark skinned man with a narrow face and a thin slit of a mouth entered a shabby Chinese grocery store in Hong Kong owned by one Wu Si Li. In the course of a violent and colourful career, the stranger would make use of at least thirty eight different aliases.  He would become notorious as Lai Tek.[1] His real name was probably Pham Van Dac. He was as protean and treacherous as his many identities. That day in 1935, Lai Tek was travelling as an agent of the Comintern. Wu Si Li’s store was a front used by the CCP and the Malayan Communists. Lai Tek was provided with funds and purchased a boat ticket to Singapore. As soon as he arrived, he made his way to the kongsi house of the Singapore Vegetable Growers’ Association, which was another MCP front address where he met someone calling himself Chen Liang. Lai Tek informed his contact that he was a ‘senior Comintern liaison officer from Hong Kong’. He had been sent to Singapore as a trouble shooter to ginger up the battered MCP. He had impressive credentials. He had studied […]
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