on the World Today
MALAYA is a puzzle. In a region which is steadily throwing off colonialism, it continues to be a part of the British Commonwealth and to follow a Fabian development as though the Pacific were peaceful. More remarkable, it does not exist — in the legal sense. “Malaya" is a conventional term covering Singapore, a British colony, and the Federation of Malaya. The southern five hundred miles of the peninsula is a federation whose eleven separate units are mostly Malay sultanates which never have been colonies; the British advise the sultans on external and economic affairs only.
Had there been any significant local political strength in Malaya, the present British government might have followed the policy it did in India and Burma. But there was no alternative local administration and no opposition to the British, and Malaya therefore remains in the British sphere.
On taking office, the Labor Government found that Britain’s post-war recovery needed the financial support of trade in Malaya’s raw materials. It wished to promote self-government, yet was thankful for “dollar” benefits from Malaya. It supported private enterprise in Malaya’s tin and rubber, while following a nationalization policy within Britain, and tried to inject British trade-unionism into Malayan workers.
These attempts to have a foot in two worlds roused suspicion in Malayan unions and also in the European and Chinese firms which produce the tin and rubber. Unversed in Western trade-unionism, Malayan labor fell into the hands of racketeers, some of them Marxist, most of them merely chiselers, and was thereby discredited though it had quite reasonable grievances. Local merchants and financiers became canny about investing new money in old mines and plantations, and were worried about rising costs and dropping prices, about international anarchy and the vagaries of Whitehall policy.
Britain’s dual policy became critical when terrorism broke out in 1948. European, Chinese, and Indian miners, planters, and businessmen were picked off by gunmen, remnants of guerrillas trained by the Allies during the war. These guerrillas included miners who had been displaced because rehabilitation was partial and who had found the jungle perfect for reviving the banditry traditional among Chinese.
It was not a new situation; it had been much the same during previous depressions in tin and rubber, but it was aggravated now by arms from the British and Japanese forces and wartime training in sabotage. The police and administration, depleted and weakened by internment and harassed by Labor Party gaucheries about overseas conditions, could not deal with it.
Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, the CommissionerGeneral in Southeast Asia, a minister of cabinet rank coördinating British colonial and foreign policy there, staked his political career by sounding the alarm. He pictured the banditry as Communist and secured a full-scale campaign against the several thousand gangsters involved. It was courageous and a masterpiece of timing. Son of Ramsay MacDonald, first Labor Prime Minister of Britain, Malcolm MacDonald has cordial relations with every section of Malayans: his smallness prevents him from awing Asians; his easiness encourages free talking; and his accessibility fits perfectly into the Malay tradition. Never was so uncolonial a person so successful with colonials!
The internal weakness of Malaya
The anti-bandit campaign etched the flaws in Malaya. At every threat, internal or external, the peninsula shows itself without any bonds politically or socially, and its economy depends entirely on a deal between Britain and the United States based on American consumption of tin and rubber.
The weakness of Malaya has many causes. Its population is compartmentalized so that there is no cohesion and no common basis for unified action. Deadlock threatens the Federation when elections are held because the indigenous Malays number about the same as local Chinese and Indians combined. The conflict of interest between town and country is here racialized — rural life is largely Malay and urban life Chinese. Commerce is Chinese, apart from a few big European agencies.
Rice labor is Malay, mining labor Chinese; rubber labor is largely Indian and Chinese. The trade-unions are similarly racial. The racial groups are highly illiterate and for that reason largely incommunicado and distinctly mercenary in outlook.
Within each community there are further breaks. Among the Malays each sultanate preserves its distinction from the others, so that there are nine sets of Malay aristocrats, glorified beyond recognition in comparison with what they were when the British first entered the peninsula in 1874. Then the sultans led only a few thousand people; they were pitiably poor and inept as figureheads despite their high-sounding titles. Now many of them have large incomes and maintain flashy, Ruritanian courts. The wealth is not of their creation — they merely profit from British and Chinese enterprise.
Loyalty to whom?
Against this aristocracy is developing a people s movement among Malays, hastened by the war and the realization that the Malay has been kept in feudal subservience to his aristocracy while the newcomer Indians and Chinese have freely risen socially as they “made good.”
The greatest single political force in Malaya today is the United Malay Nationalist Organization (UMNO), a post-war party in which for the first time the ordinary Malays have been vocal on political issues. Only superficially does it resemble the nationalist movement of other Southeast Asia countries. UMNO deals with the “survival problem" for Malays and it aims at the democratization of Malay society. This division marks a new social ferment.
Because of its racial feuds, Malaya is wide open to internal disruption. Loyalty among its polyglot people means little: it is an abstraction in most of Asia. Loyalty there has to be a personal matter, a matter of mercenary self-interest. This has to be borne in mind not only regarding loyalty by Malayans to Malaya but also regarding the loyalty of Malayan Chinese to China.
At the moment there is only one common denominator in Malaya — the economic fact that everyone in the country depends on trade in tin and rubber. Every phase and standard of life depends on these exports. Malays cannot obtain the expanded training they ask unless revenues, which mostly derive from tin and rubber, are forthcoming. For the Malayan Chinese, if trade in tin and rubber fades out, their livelihood ceases and the foundation of their businesses inside and around Malaya crumbles. There is neither food nor industry to support Malayans if their tin and rubber fail.
No boom in tin and rubber
Doubt about the future is preventing any boom in Malaya even though the prices for tin and rubber are record-high; no one can imagine them lasting. Expansion of industries is not taking place though the amount of money in Malaya is probably larger than ever before and everything is really set for industrialization to broaden the basis of Malayan economy. But those with money cannot see ahead for the length of time necessary for a reasonable return on money invested.
This is a fantastic form of paralysis. With good prices now and much gold coming from China in the retreat from Mao Tse-tung, Malaya is almost clogged with money to invest. Without some stability for the basic materials of Malaya nothing can be done with this capital except the sterile use of it in real estate. What is needed is not a fancy price for tin and rubber but a plan for their futures.
In the United States people now realize that the stockpiling program for tin and rubber has not been successful as an insurance or as a dental operation. In Malaya, it is causing ridiculous prices and weakening morale. The specter of a collapse in tin and rubber when the ceiling is reached haunts every Malayan project. It helps account for the suspicion and fear with which American economic policy is received in Southeast Asia.
If the U.S. will take the lead
The Ended Slates, whose purchasing power in the automobile, electric, and food-canning industries has been the greatest single stimulus to Malaya’s past success, is now viewed as the greatest single threat to its future. American stockpiling is discouraging local industrialization and undermining the only common bond among Malayan nationals. To them, United States policy seems to be offering a breakdown differing only in name from what Malaya may expect through Communism.
Desirable as covert tactics a year ago, stockpiling has been outmoded by Korea. It is not necessary on supply grounds, now that synthetic factories are out of mothballs. The immense stockpile fund may at this stage be used constructively for underpinning the economy of Malaya and thereby offering something which no other power in Asia can promise — time for Malaya to mature into a model of successful pioneering by Asians.
It will be quite enough to disperse the air of doubt and uncertainty in Malaya if the United States announces that its present budget earmarked for stockpiling tin and rubber will henceforth be held in reserve to be drawn on whenever within the next five years tin falls below 85 cents a pound or rubber below 40 cents. These are substantially lower than present prices but they are adequate for the producers.
A medium-term price assurance of that kind would provide in Malaya and Southeast Asia such a fillip to confidence that local capital would be released, local industries would be promoted, and the general welfare would be so improved that it would probably never be necessary to spend the fund. It must deny any section of Malayans the expectation of being no worse off by going Communist — which is the danger of the moment.
A project of this type may be unprecedented in American policy. What of that ? Past policy has veered between giving away billions of dollars for no return and direct military action — neither of which has effectively secured the peace. In Malaya internal security can be obtained without giveaways or fighting.
Few parts of the world so lend themselves to the constructive approach as Malaya. A medium-term assurance to Malaya of the type suggested can underpin at once the whole of Southeast Asia. Above all, it provides what no other policy can — a line of personal propaganda by Malayan Chinese to other Asians demonstrating that the West can aid Asia without strings.