on the World Today
MALAYA is one of the keys to Southeast Asia. With a population composed of Chinese, Malays, Indians, and British, it has political and cultural ties with Formosa, Communist China, India, the United Kingdom, and Indonesia. Malaya and Singapore together play a decisive role in the economy of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Communist International is able to create so many problems for the free world with such a small investment of men and materials in the Malayan jungles.
The decision to start a terrorist movement in Malaya was taken at a Communist conference held in Calcutta late in 1947. Since that time a force rarely exceeding 5000 men and composed mainly of non-Malay Chinese has operated in the jungles of Malaya. Hundreds of rubber estate managers have been shot, thousands of workers driven from their jobs, and communications made extremely difficult and expensive. It is too dangerous to prospect for new sources of tin, and within a few years there will be a reduced output.
The British have been compelled to organize a suppression force of more than 100,000 men, part British, part native, and to spend at least 30 per cent of the budget in Malaya on what they call the Emergency. The loss of life and treasure is considerable. The strain on nerves and the undermining of hope for the future are more difficult to measure.
The Communists are certainly striking at a vulnerable spot. The economic stability of the United Kingdom, our most important ally, depends to a considerable extent upon the dollar-earning capacity of Singapore and the Federation of Malaya. This dollar-earning capacity, the largest in the Commonwealth, is affected by more factors than the cost of suppressing Communist terrorists. The structure of the Malayan rubber industry and the policy of the U.S. government towards synthetic rubber are important additional factors.
The British are capturing or killing more terrorists today than ever before, but they realize better than anyone else how large a measure of success the Communists have achieved. If the Communists were to succeed in preventing a solution of the economic and political problems of Malaya, the reverberations in Southeast Asia would not be pleasant to contemplate.
It is possible that the long-range picture may not be quite so grim as the short-range. While Communist pressure has brought about a great deal of confusion and dislocation, it has also served to bring to a head certain problems which the Communists did not create but which were demanding solution. American stockpiling has intensified the commercial struggle between synthetic and natural rubber, but the economic structure of the Malayan rubber industry, like that of the British coal industry, was long overdue for complete overhaul.
When the British talk about the price of rubber in Malaya, they are thinking of a price which would make it possible for the small owners to survive. But the small plantations do not have the capital to grow new trees and take full advantage of modern methods. The commercial competition of synthetic rubber had already stirred the British to intensive scientific research in the development and the use of natural rubber as well as to extensive advertising in the United States.
An independent Malaya
On the political side the pressure of the Emergency has compelled Britain to face up to the question of the role of the Chinese population in an independent Malaya. An independent Malaya is an official objective of the British government. Sir Gerald Templer, British High Commissioner in Malaya, brought with him in February of this year a public directive of which the first sentence reads: “The policy of His Majesty’s Government in Great Britain is that Malaya should in due course become a fully self-governing nation.”
In the British view, according to the same directive, a united Malayan nation must be based upon a “common form of citizenship” for everyone who regards the Federation as his real home and the object of his loyalty. In other words, the British have committed themselves to an independent Malaya based on interracial harmony.
Malcolm MacDonald, Commissioner General for the United Kingdom in Southeast Asia, draws a picture of a future Malaya that is fully in keeping with the Templer directive. He has announced that self-government is an unalterable aim of British policy in Malaya, a policy that is above and beyond all British parties. He sees Malaya developing as a kind of Asiatic Switzerland in which all peoples living there, including the British, can live in partnership. While an independent Malaya would be free to leave the Commonwealth, it would also be free to stay. He naturally hopes that Malaya, like India and Pakistan, would choose to stay.
Resetting the Chinese squatters
The Communists are forcing the pace in Malayan political development because the terrorists cannot be suppressed without the assistance of the Chinese community. The planners of Communist strategy had counted upon exploiting to the full the half million or more Chinese squatters who were scattered all over the jungles of Malaya. It was planned to use them as a source of food, shelter, and manpower.
The British, as part of the plan to suppress terrorism devised by Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Briggs when he was Director of Operations, tried to move all these squatters into protected resettlement camps. These camps are now called New Villages. By the beginning of April, 1952, some 423,000 men, women, and children had been settled in 410 New Villages, leaving another 77,000 persons to be brought under adininistrative control.
According to the White Paper published by the Federal Legislative Council, the total number of persons involved in this stupendous two-year operation amounts to 9.2 per cent of the total population. “It is not an exaggeration to describe the achievements of 1950 and 1951 in this field as constituting a major change in the appearance of the countryside and a new outlook on life for one in every ten persons in the Federation.” By the end of 1951 the regrouping and resettlement had cost 41,000,000 Straits dollars. This vast undertaking has not solved the terrorist problem but it has removed the chief source of terrorist support and gained much needed time.
A stake in the land
What began as a security measure may very well boomerang if the halfmillion Chinese squatters do not find a satisfactory livelihood in their New Villages. This is an institutional challenge and both MacDonald and Templer recognize it as such. By making some form of local government organization the key to their approach on the social and political front, they have made some progress. The New Villagers have been granted long-term land titles, a move calculated to increase food production and provide stable occupations for the Chinese farmers. While some government assistance is being also given to increase the number of schools and to improve health facilities, the most ambitious and daring objective is to have the villages protect themselves by enlisting and training Home Guards. Success in this would defeat the Communists on their own ground.
The process of developing the political consciousness of the Chinese population and of giving it a stake in the land and administration has great dangers. The British are well aware that the task of winning the coöperation of the Chinese has to be accomplished without antagonizing the Malay population. Failure on this front might mean genocide. If the arming of the people gets ahead of village organization and antiCommunist orientation, the arms will go to the enemy.
Most British and Malay leaders feel that they have gone a long way towards meeting the Chinese problem — certainly far enough to establish their bona fides — by moving the squatters into protected villages, starting local self-government, and granting titles to land (a privilege never before enjoyed by the Chinese in Malaya), and by making it easier for Chinese to secure Malayan citizenship. For those Chinese who join the Federation police forces, citizenship comes automatically after three years’ service.
A parallel development in Singapore has been the decision to accept the Chinese language as the equivalent of English for those who wish to become naturalized British subjects.
Most Chinese would like to see the process of naturalization speeded up. But the British feel that the Malay population must be given time to improve its relative economic position, now much weaker than the Chinese, before British protection is removed. They claim that the Rural Industrial Development Authority is seeking to raise Malay economic standards through its coöperative marketing schemes and other approaches. There are few, however, who think the Malays can catch up with the dominating economic position of the Chinese.
The British presumably do not wish to be hurried into strengthening the political position of the Chinese any faster than events demand. They are watching very closely, therefore, the political alliance that has developed between Dato Onn, leader of the Independence of Malaya Party, and Tan Cheng-Lock, President of the Malayan Chinese Association, because both are in favor of an independent Malaya. They prefer the more coöperative type of leadership represented by Tan Chen-Chuan, Managing Director of the Overseas Chinese Bank, Vice President of the Legislative Council and member of the Executive Council, but it is not likely to produce the Chinese mass coöperation that the situation demands.
Chinese civil service
To give the Chinese a stake in the land may be easier than to give them a real share in administration. In this connection one of the biggest problems is the Malay civil service, in which there are no Indians or Chinese. The Malay civil service officials, like the police force, do not speak Chinese, and only one third of the Chinese population speaks Malay. The British are therefore organizing a separate and parallel civil service and police force among the Chinese population.
It would be preferable to have the Chinese come right into the regular civil service, but such a proposition would not at the present time be accepted by the legislature. The British hope is that in the future the two services may be amalgamated. Their attitude is: We have to take a chance on the Chinese — let’s hope that it works. So far the impact of the Emergency has been to bring Malays and Chinese together and to strengthen the federal as against the local governments.
Will we help to defend?
It is difficult for the outsider to visualize the enormous revolution in British policy that all this represents. The public commitment to an independent Malaya is a binding obligation in the world today. The attempt to bring Malays and Chinese together contrasts with the former policy of keeping them apart. The effort to arouse the political consciousness of both Malays and Chinese runs counter to old policies, attitudes, and institutions.
The new approach is better understood among top British administrators than it is lower in the ranks and among some of the rubber planters. Interservice jealousies get in the way. The very fact that independence is an object of policy creates problems of morale among the British civil servants who are charged with carrying it out, thus hastening the end of their own jobs. The secret of success lies in the establishment of confidence and hope in the future, a problem that Malaya alone cannot solve.
It is no accident, therefore, that Malaya is much more interested in American policy than most Americans would suppose. It is not only a matter of the price of rubber, as conversation in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore would seem to suggest, but also a question of American intention toward this part of the world. Can we and will we help to defend it in case of attack?
Both Chinese and Malays remember the Japanese conquest and do not feel certain that the British can hold this part of the world by themselves. So long as there is a chance that the Communists may be taking over, neither Chinese nor Malays want to be on the black list and many will continue to pay blood money to the terrorists. The battle of ideas, we may do well to remind ourselves, always takes place within the framework of military realities and political prestige.