1940-1949 | Malaysia

Secret memo argues economic interests should trump constitutional reforms

2 April 1949

On 2 April 1949, a secret Foreign Office memorandum highlighted the British concern to prevent the people of Malaya being handed control over their own rich tin and rubber resources. 83% of Malaya’s rubber plantation acreage was European owned and most of that by British companies. In 1947 the colony’s rubber output alone was the main source of dollars for the British Empire, with exports amounting to some $200 million, eclipsing even the $180 million earned by British manufacturing exports.

The memorandum highlighted the dangers which might be posed by any move towards more independence. ‘It would clearly be disastrous,’ it noted, ‘if Malaya were ever to meet the same fate as Burma. We should of course lose one of our principal dollar earning sources. Worse than this, we should also lose one of the principal sources of vital raw materials…. In the foreseeable future we shall be met with strong demands for constitutional developments in Malaya which we would be very rash to grant if there was the remotest risk of things developing badly.’1


  1. John Newsinger, British Counterinsurgency, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2015, pp. 42-43.

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