Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is a historian, and founder and Managing Director of New Naratif (www.newnaratif.com), a Southeast Asian platform for research, journalism, art, and community organisation. A promoter of democracy and human rights, he and his colleagues have been abused, harassed, threatened, arrested, and jailed, but they remain undaunted and unbowed. He is also founding director of Project Southeast Asia, an interdisciplinary research cluster on Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, his work centres on the history of Southeast Asian governance and politics.
Prof Thum Ping Tjin discussed the modern history of the Malay Peninsula and the economic imperatives that led to changes in governance patterns. Prof Thum then talked about attempts by the British to decolonise the state of Singapore and attempt to make it a British ally. He then touched upon nationalism being used as a tool by the People’s Action Party to delegitimise its opposition.
The conversation between Narayan Ramachandran and Prof Thum then moved into a discussion on whether a state can be liberal and national at the same time, if Singapore can be considered a success and solutions to the worldwide phenomenon of populism.