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From the Office of Wan Ahmad Fayhsal

From the hindsight of London Colonial Office: Decolonization of British Malaya


Tuesday, Sep 22


Colonial Office, Whitehall (Now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Sir George Gilbert Scott and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt. 1861-68. Photograph by George P. Landow. Source: Victorian Web.


by Wan Ahmad Fayhsal

It
has almost become a tradition for Malaysians, whenever we celebrate our
independence day – “Merdeka” as we
fond to call it – we would rehearse the similar stories and images particularly
how Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Father of Malayan Independence (Bapa Kemerdekaan) who led the delegates
comprising members of multi-racial parties under the Alliance banner that went
to London and negotiated the independence from the British.
There
were actually three sides on the negotiation table: the British as the colonial
master, the Alliance who represented the people at large after winning the
first general election in 1955 and the least remembered of them all – the
representatives of the Malay Rulers.
As
the adage goes, history is written by the victors. UMNO as the leader of the
multi-racial Alliance (now better known as “Barisan
Nasional
”) has championed the skewed independence narrative that suppressed
many other facets of history of independence that worth to be explored and
re-examine again.  One of those facets,
besides the independence narrative of the Malay rulers is the one recorded at
the very heart of British Empire – the Colonial Office.
The colonial genesis of independence
Independence
is not a singular event dated 31st August 1957. Gaining independence
was an arduous process. Series of negotiations leading to the Malayan
independence were conducted in a carefully planned scheme with the view that
Britain must able to safeguard their interests in Malaya even after relinquishing
the colonial grip.
Exhausted
by war in Europe and facing indigenous hostilities in their colonies abroad,
the British Empire was really on the brink of dissolution after World War II.
With the creation of Atlantic Charter by the US that demanded for
self-determination for all nations, the British was left with no choice except
to carefully plan their withdrawals from the colonies.
With
the creation of League of Nations, which then evolved to be the present United
Nations (UN), both the British and the US together rebuilt the post-war world
order in the light of Anglo-American interest. The US emerged as the least
unscathed after the war. This allowed them to spearhead the rebuilding of
Europe via the famous Marshall Plan.  The
looming threat of communism coming from Russia had forced the Europeans to
embrace the plan that many dubbed as “rebuilding Europe in the image of America”
especially through its dollarization program.
They
both engineered, spearheaded by the US, the international monetary and economic
order via Bretton Woods institutions such as the World Bank, and International
Monetary Fund (IMF) – also known as the “Washington consensus” – that govern
and wield massive influence in the day-to-day running of today’s international
financial system.
The financial and economic interest of
British
Despite
the differences with regard to policies in forming the post-World War II
international and financial architecture, Britain and the US have able to
maintain the Anglo-American hegemony in the arena of international political
economy by properly managed the decolonization process.
Global
leadership transition from the British Empire to the US occurred through the
mechanism of internationalization of nation states by integrating them all into
the world organizations like United Nations (UN), World Bank and IMF where the US
wield massive influence.
It
happened on the eve of those countries receiving independence from their
European colonialists, orchestrated from the behind by the US. The birth of
Federation of Malaya too was subjected to this arrangement by becoming the
member of IMF, World Bank and UN right after independence. The membership was
decided by the US, after the official assessments had been conducted earlier
before the Malayan independence. All of these decisions were consented by
British on behalf of the citizens of Federation of Malaya. There was no
substantial debate ever took place on this as both the Alliance and the Malay
Rulers back then were too busy focusing on negotiating the political
independence.
Malaya
was one of the most important British protectorates due to its role in the
Sterling Area – an area that helped to strengthen the pound and Britain’s trade
balance. As Malaya was renowned for its rubber and tin exports, she also became
the dollar earners for Britain especially from the trade Malaya had with the US
during the interwar period.  
Malaya
to Britain was a crucial protectorate that acted as one of Britain’s dollar
reserves. She was used by Britain in managing the balance of payment for the
empire and its colonies in obtaining vital goods from the US in sustaining
their campaign against the Axis in Europe. This relationship continued further
even after the independence before the collapse of Sterling Area in 1967.
British
business interests in Malaya was sustained even after independence hence the
need for British to ensure the proper handover to reliable party that would not
only able to fulfill the ‘self-determination’ role as ratified by the Atlantic
Charter for the newly birthed nation-state but also in safeguarding their
economic interest in the region.  British
needed local elites who could preserve and maintain the economic and financial
interest of London in Malaya and they found it in Tunku Abdul Rahman of UMNO.
Companies
like Guthrie, Sime Darby, Boustead were originally British-owned before
nationalization occurred under the New Economic Policy.  Before that, during the colonial and
post-independence period they were known as agency houses, performing trade and
investment activities for the British in Malaya. When the British provided aid
to Malaya in defense against communism, it was not meant solely to protect the
Malayans but more due to safeguard their capitalist interest.
The Federation of Malaya Independence Bill
It
was a logical solution for British that in order to safeguard their interest in
Malaya, they need to ensure the newly self-determined Malaya to possess a
strong central government. Federalism is a tool for British to manage the nine
Malay rulers that reigned as sovereigns within their own territories.
Federalism was also implemented unto Gold Coast (now known as Ghana) in British
African colony.
It
was at best an experiment as stated in the bill by one of the members of
parliament, Mr. CJ Alport:
“I join with other hon. Members in wishing this new experiment
in the evolution of British policy the success which has been the general wish
of the House this afternoon.  This is something
very strange. We have Republics in the Commonwealth and we have monarchies of
which the Queen is the Sovereign, but this will be an elected monarchy in the
Commonwealth of which the Queen is not the Sovereign. It is a new
constitutional contrivance—something
different from anything that we have known in Anglo- Saxon constitutional law,
at any rate, for many centuries. It is new. It combines long history and
tradition with the newest methods of constitutional development. “
Despite
of the failure of Malayan Union earlier, the British through Alliance managed
to form a strong central government that is palatable to the indigenous Malays
as well as the non-Malays who were naturalized after being granted citizenship,
overnight.
By
artificially creating an overarching monarch called Yang Dipertuan Agong who derived its power from the original and
rightful sovereigns – the Conference of Malay Rulers – the Federation of Malaya
was designed, borrowing Alport’s on the above, as a “contrivance” in inventing
a nation with an artificial identity, conceived out of the necessity to
preserve the interest of the outgoing empire.  
The role of secret services and
intelligence group during decolonization
Similar
schemes can be detected in the formation of Malaysian in 1963. Declassified
documents as studied by Greg Poulgrain in his The Genesis of Konfrantasi: Malaysia,
Brunei and Indonesia (1945-1965)
as well as Calder Walton’s Empire
of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire

evidenced how Malaysia as an extension of Federation of Malaya was
engineered not only by the Cobbold Commission but also by the role of British
and American intelligence in their covert operations with respect to their role
in Brunei rebellion, as well as coaxing President Sukarno of Indonesia to
launch a hostile rejection (Konfrontasi)
to the proposal in forming Malaysia.
The
confluence of oil interest in North Kalimantan and Brunei as well as the threat
of communism exacerbated the need for a closer cooperation between British and
American intelligence in the form of Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE),
which oversaw and coordinated strategic interventions in safeguarding Anglo-American
geopolitical interests in South East Asia.
Brunei
rebellion, the formation of Malaysia, as well as the downfall of Sukarno seemed
to be unrelated but declassified records as studied by Poulgrain and Walton
indicated ample evidences on the role of secret service and intelligence groups
like CIA, MI6 and SIFE had played in inducing those events as well as
contriving the decolonization process as nothing but a real transition from a formal
rule to an informal one.
From
the windowpane of the London Colonial Office it seems the independence was just
a shift from colonialism to neo-colonialism; from a direct rule to an indirect
rule.
Former
colonial masters became the handmaiden for the birth of the new nation-states
that now operate as peripheries, especially in their economic relation to the
American ‘empire’, the superpower that holds sway the global governance through
her leading role in many important international institutions.
Are
we truly Merdeka? This question begs serious
reexamination of our historical past, present and future. Only then we can do
justice to the real meaning of independence.

This revised article was first published by The Malaysian Reserve under different title.

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