The Malaysia Agreement, 1962-1963

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This paper details Singapore's negotiations for merger with Malaya to form Malaysia in 1962-1963.

Transcript of The Malaysia Agreement, 1962-1963

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    Same Bed, Different Dreams:

    Singapores Merger with the Federation of Malaya and the

    Malaysia Agreement, November 1962 September 1963

    Toh Boon Kwan

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    Authors Note

    This article was first published in the National University of Singapore History Societys publication, The History Journal 1999, pp. 37-50. This is the illustrated edition and

    contains corrections to the print edition.

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    Same Bed, Different Dreams: Singapores Merger with the Federation of Malaya and the

    Malaysia Agreement, November 1962 September 1963

    Toh Boon Kwan

    In the aftermath of the Second World War, British colonial policy in Southeast

    Asia aimed to grant self-government within the British Commonwealth to its colonies in

    the region. The eventual objective was a dominion of South East Asia, comprising the

    Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo, and Brunei.1 Malcolm

    MacDonald, United Kingdom Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia, 1948-1955,

    first coined the term grand design in 1955 to describe the above scheme.2 Despite the

    granting of early independence to the Federation of Malaya in 1957, the United Kingdom

    maintained the aim of fostering closer association between Singapore and the

    Federation.3 Malayan sensitivity over the racial arithmetic of a Greater Federation4

    1 CO 1022/61, Savingram No. 9, Malcolm MacDonald to Colonial Office, 29 January 1952. Printed in A. J.

    Stockwell, ed., British Documents on the End of Empire [hereafter cited as BDEE]: Malaya, Part II: The

    Communist Insurrection (London: HMSO, 1995), doc. 267, pp. 369-372; CO 1022/86, Minute by J. J.

    Paskin on closer constitutional association between Malaya and Singapore, 10 December 1952. Printed in

    David Goldsworthy, ed., BDEE: The Conservative Government and the End of Empire 1951-1957, Part II:

    Politics and Administration (London: HMSO, 1994), doc. 345, pp. 376-377; D. S. Ranjit Singh, British Proposals for a Dominion of Southeast Asia, 1943-1957, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, LXXI, Part 1 (1998), pp. 27-40. 2 CO 1030/163, Despatch No. 3 from MacDonald to A. T. Lennox-Boyd, Secretary of State for the

    Colonies, 2 April 1955. Printed in Stockwell, ed., BDEE: Malaya, Part III: The Alliance Route to

    Independence 1953-1957 (London: HMSO, 1995), doc. 346, pp. 109-112. . 3 A. J. Stockwell, Malaysia: The Making of a Neo-Colony?, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 26, 2 (May 1998), p. 141. 4 In June 1956, then Federation Chief Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman advocated for a Greater Federation of Malaya in the wake of the British grand design of uniting their Southeast Asian colonies eventually. Merger with Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei would add substantially to the existing Malay population in the Federation and would make it possible to take Singapore, with its preponderance of Chinese, into a

    greater federation without threatening the preferred political position of the Malays which a merger

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    put paid to British plans for the concurrent development of two federations: The merger

    of Singapore with Malaya and the Bornean Federation comprising Sarawak, North

    Borneo and Brunei. The two federations were

    originally meant as the preliminaries to the

    eventual establishment of a Confederation

    comprising the above states in a loose political

    arrangement.5 Malayan resistance to merger with

    Singapore lessened with the onset of the Laotian

    Crisis of April 1961 and the growing instability of

    the ruling Peoples Action Party (PAP) in

    Singapore. Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul

    Rahman made the public commitment to the

    Malaysia Plan on 27 May 1961.6

    between Singapore and the present Federation would most certainly entail. See National Archives and Records Administration, Confidential U.S. State Department Special Files, Southeast Asia, 1944-1958, Lot

    File 58-D-726: Records of the Officer in Charge of Malayan Affairs, Subject Files, 1955-1956, Box 2,

    Subject File, 1956, Memorandum of Conversation between Dr Ismail, Minister for Commerce and

    Industry, Vice President of UMNO and Thomas K. Wright, American Consul General, 1 June 1956; Bob

    Catley and Vinsensio Dugis, Australian Indonesian Relations Since 1945: The Garuda and the Kangaroo

    (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), p. 42. 5 Ref. fn. 2. 6 Ghazali Shafie, Ghazali Shafies Memoir on the Formation of Malaysia (Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1998), pp. 25-26.

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    On 9 July 1963, the United Kingdom,

    the Federation of Malaya and the Crown

    Colonies of North Borneo, Sarawak and

    Singapore signed an agreement bringing

    into existence the Federation of

    Malaysia. The formation of Malaysia

    marked the epitome of post-war British

    colonial policy to unite their colonies in

    the Southeast Asian region into a single polity. This event was the culmination of months

    of arduous and protracted negotiations up to the very moment of the initialising of the

    Malaysia Agreement, in particular between the Federation and Singapore. The British

    were ever present in the background, acting as facilitators in a situation they did not fully

    control but exercising a moderating and limited influence on the indigenous parties

    involved.7 The Malayan press warmly welcomed the Malaysia Agreement but raised its

    reservations. The acting British High Commissioner to Kuala Lumpur in his summary

    review of Malayan press reactions to the Malaysia Agreement reported to the

    Commonwealth Relations Office that there has been realistic stress in many editorials on

    the fact that this [Malaysia Agreement] is not the end but the beginning.8 This reaction

    reflected the general unease among informed observers over the ambiguous terms of the

    Malaysia Agreement with regard to merger between Singapore and the Federation. The

    7 Stockwell, Malaysia, pp. 139, 152. 8 Public Record Office [hereafter cited as PRO], DO 169/216, Telegram No. 1284, 13 July 1963.

    The leaders of the Federation of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and

    Singapore at Marlborough House in London for the signing of

    the Malaysia Agreement.

    SSoouurrccee:: SSiinnggaappoorree AAnn IIlllluussttrraatteedd HHiissttoorryy 11994411--11998844

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    Agreement did not represent the resolution of fundamental differences between both

    Singapore and the Federation. Instead, it reflected the lowest common denominator of

    concurrence between both parties. This paper will showcase the different motivations and

    contexts that Britain, the Federation and Singapore operated in during the run-up to the

    Malaysia Agreement. This paper will argue that the Malaysia Agreement did not plaster

    over the different ideals and divergences in political culture, attitudes and societal make-

    up between Singapore and the Federation. The Malaysia Agreement was a compromise

    that did not go far enough to bridge the fundamental differences existing between the

    parties involved. The terms of Agreement were couched in ambiguity and subsequent

    attempts to revise the terms proved the inadequacies of the basis on which the Agreement

    was constructed.

    The Economics Behind the Merger Negotiations

    The framework for Singapores merger with the Federation was laid in mid-

    November 1962 with the establishment of an Inter-governmental Committee on

    Federation/Singapore Merger. This joint committee, headed by senior ministers from

    both governments, was responsible for working out the details for merger.9 At this early

    stage even before the negotiations had started, the acting United Kingdom High

    Commissioner in Singapore noted that Lee Kuan Yew is apprehensive about the

    9 The Singapore delegation was led by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee

    was the Deputy Chairman. The Federation team was led by Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak. He

    was assisted by Ghazali Shafie, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs. See PRO,


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    negotiations which he expects to be difficult, an apprehension which proved prophetic.10

    Differences over citizenship, fundamental rights (immigration, freedom of association,

    etc.) and finance remained to be resolved.11

    The negotiations for merger between the Federation and Singapore floundered

    over the economic arrangements. Both parties were pursuing divergent aims with regard

    to their own conflicting interests. From the Singapore negotiating teams perspective,

    merger was essential out of economic necessity. A Singapore divorced from the Malayan

    hinterland was not economical