British Business in Post-Colonial Malaysia, 1957-70: Neo-Colonialism or Disengagement?

British Business in Post-Colonial Malaysia, 1957-70: Neo-Colonialism or Disengagement?

British Business in Post-Colonial Malaysia, 1957-70: Neo-Colonialism or Disengagement?

British Business in Post-Colonial Malaysia, 1957-70: Neo-Colonialism or Disengagement?

Synopsis

Nicholas J. White is Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History at Liverpool John Moores University, where he specialises in British imperialism and decolonisation and the recent history of Southeast Asia.

Excerpt

This is the first full-length study of the experiences of a British imperial business network in the aftermath of decolonisation. It re-examines the 'neo-colonial' interpretation of Malaysia's contemporary economic and political history. In other words, we re-visit the notion that independence for the Federation of Malaya in 1957, followed by the creation of Malaysia six years later, represented a 'pseudo-independence', largely because of the entrenched and dominant position of British business interests allied to indigenous elites. Under the premiership of Tunku Abdul Rahman (1957-70), British business did indeed occupy a strong position in the successor state. Not only in the long-established rubber and tin industries, but also in the new fields of secondary industry and oil palms, British business groups showed themselves at the forefront of developments and capable of considerable dynamism, without the colonial crutch. But, drawing upon a wealth of newly released business and government papers in both the UK and Malaysia, the following chapters reveal that Malaysian politicians and administrators were able to utilise the expatriates for their own ends. British businesses were relatively weak vis-à-vis the determined post-colonial state, while the constant fears of expatriate managers and directors about Malaysia's political, economic and social future hardly points to a situation akin to 'neo-colonialism'. At the same time, indigenous businesses and foreign, non-British competitors were gathering strength, and frequently had more solid and influential governmental contacts than their British counterparts. Although both Conservative and Labour governments in London were concerned to maintain Britain's world role through the Commonwealth, UK firms in Malaysia also received limited backing from the post-imperial state. Indeed, in the second half of the 1960s, an accelerated 'disengagement' between Britain and Malaysia impacted negatively upon the UK's financial, commercial and industrial nexus in Commonwealth Southeast Asia.

The book tells us much therefore about events crucial to the early years of Malaysian independence-such as the split with Singapore, the growing roles of the state in economic development and the beginnings of 'crony capitalism', the origins of industrialisation and the diversification of the export base, and the reorientation towards the Asia-Pacific trading and

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