The PAP's Fascination with Communists

Chairman of the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s youth wing – the Young PAP (YP) – Mr Teo Ser Luck, led a five-member delegation to Beijing and met with the First Secretary of the Communist Youth League of China in February, 2009. (See here.)

Mr Teo, when asked if he was worried about YP associating with a Communist organisation, said: ‘We’re not worried because it’s the governing party and Singapore-China relations are so close. We don’t talk about political philosophy.’

In 1992, Deng Xiaoping praised Singapore as an orderly and well-managed country and said that China must not only learn from Singapore but must also surpass it. Perhaps for the Chinese communists the period of learning from Singapore is over and they have surpassed us. Presumably, it is we who now need to ‘learn’ from them and hence the visit to China by Mr Teo.

The fascination of the governing PAP with the Chinese communists also has historical precedent. During its infancy the PAP was regarded by many as a Communist front. In fact in its early formative years the PAP calculated that a united front with the communists was necessary to win the support of the Chinese educated public and gain power. This is no secret, as even the party website bears witness that the PAP “worked with communists in the early days”. The PAP and the CCP even have similar organizational structures: both use a cadre system where a core group of party “elders” hold all the power in the parties.

Mr Teo perhaps hopes to have his YP emulate the Communist Youth League of China, also known as the China Youth League (CYL). He said that the YP School – which was established in 2004 to train party activists – would take a leaf from the CYL in political education and leadership development. Mr Teo wants the YP School to put in place a training system that would – similar to the CYL – turn a new party recruit into an activist and eventually, a party leader.

Here is what the CYL’s aims are, according to this website:

The basic task of the CYL at the present stage is: Firmly and unswervingly implementing the Party’s basic line at the primary stage of socialism, to unite and lead the young people in adhering to the four cardinal principles with economic construction as the focus, and adhering to reform and opening up and working hard through self-reliance, to promote the development of productive forces and social progress and to foster successors with ideals, ethics, education and a sense of discipline in the great practice of building socialism with Chinese characteristics in an effort to transfuse new blood into the Party and bring about young construction personnel for the country.

While Mr Teo may want to have his YP learn from the CYL, he failed to realize that there several crucial differences between YP and CYL. The CYL still adheres to Marxism - the YP doesn’t have any ideology at all. CYL is a national organisation, that has recruits from every school, and future national leaders are groomed by the CYL. In contrast, YP doesn’t recruit from schools and its recruits have almost no chance of becoming national leaders as the PAP doesn’t recruit its Cabinet ministers from its rank-and-file. Furthermore, the ‘recruitment’ methods employed by the CYL are highly questionable. Many high school students are ‘enlisted’ in questionable circumstances as CYL members upon graduating from high school – and they do not find it easy to dissociate themselves thereafter.

For example, Li Yuanlong, a reporter for Bijie Ribao daily newspaper from Guizhou province in China, had this to say when he resigned from the CYL:

“I am Li Yuanlong, male, Han nationality, born in Guizhou’s Bijie City in 1960. On August 27, 1980, I reluctantly joined the Communist Youth League. Since then, I’ve accrued a moral debt, living with a guilty conscience. As of this moment, I formally declare my resignation of the CYL.”

Mr Li was subsequently arrested for “inciting subversion of state authority” charges and suffered two years imprisonment in 2005. (Source: Asian Research, “40 million quit the CCP”)

Will ‘recruitment’ from secondary schools and junior colleges be now modus operandi for YP? Will these new ‘recruits’ be groomed to become ‘activists’, perhaps to help the ruling party engage new media? Will these ‘activists’ be put through a grueling system of leadership development and political education, one that indoctrinates them with party philosophy and party history, to develop them into ‘leaders’? Will some of these ‘activists’ and ‘leaders’ come to regret their decision to join the party, much like Li Yuanlong?

If indeed Mr Teo hopes to copy the CYL’s recruitment and indoctrination plans, will it be effective? It may not have that much impact given how none of the current PAP leaders came from YP. For example, even George Yeo and Vivian Balakrishnan were only in YP because they had been parachuted there as YP chairmen! Furthermore, most YP members seem to have joined the party only to establish some sort of patron-client relationship, in the belief that helping out with the PAP can advance their own careers or ambitions.

Perhaps Mr Teo’s visit to the CYL and his abundant praises of the Chinese system has deeper economic implications? Prior to his departure for China, Mr Teo readily admitted that trips to build ties with one of the world’s largest economies would be “significantly beneficial when things [i.e. the Singapore economy] pick up”.

Even Walt Disney has realised that China is an untapped market and has enlisted the help of China’s 70 million CYL members to enter the Chinese market in 2004. (BBC news). The US entertainment giant then toured the Chinese youth centres to build awareness of the Disney brand. Jay Rasulo, president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said, “It’s one part of an overall brand building process”. Andy Milligan, of branding consultancy, Interbrand, describes Walt Disney’s move to woo China by engaging CYL as “a huge commercial opportunity for Disney” “There is an increasingly affluent middle-class in China,” he said, “so they have money to spend and money to travel.”

Does the ‘one-party’ model of China fire the imagination of the governing party of Singapore? The fear of instability is etched into the PAP’s psyche. The early formative years of Singapore, which were rife with leftist riots and ethnic conflicts, has contributed much towards such fears. The ruling party believes that one-party rule represents stability. But whatever the reasons, the question remains: “Will the fascination of the governing party with the Chinese communists pay dividends for them now as it did more than 50 years ago?”