Britain and Regional Cooperation in South-East Asia, 1945-49

Britain and Regional Cooperation in South-East Asia, 1945-49

Britain and Regional Cooperation in South-East Asia, 1945-49

Britain and Regional Cooperation in South-East Asia, 1945-49

Synopsis

Tilman Remme explores the British attempt to establish an international regional organisation in South-East Asia in the post-war period which would allow tham to dominate the region politically, economically and militarily.

Excerpt

On 8 January 1950, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, arrived in the Ceylonese capital of Colombo to attend the first Commonwealth conference ever to be held on Asian soil. the British had asked the Ceylonese government at very short notice to convene the week-long meeting. the official purpose was to discuss foreign policy issues of mutual concern. However, there was one topic that the British were particularly concerned about: the rapid spread of communism in the Far East. For eighteen months now, communist forces had been threatening British interests in eastern Asia. in Malaya-a highly lucrative British possession because of her dollar-earning rubber exports to the United States-groups of communist insurgents were conducting a destructive guerrilla campaign against British plantations and installations. Burma and Indonesia, too, were affected by communist strife, while in Indochina the French were waging a fullscale war against the communist-dominated Viet Minh. Most worrying, from the British point of view, was the fact that China had only recently been ‘lost’ to the communists, jeopardising British trading interests in the country and threatening to export Chinese-style revolutions to the rest of Asia.

By the end of 1949, the British had decided to regard Asian communism not in isolation, but as a regional problem. London feared that if the rice-exporting countries of French Indochina, Thailand and Burma were going to fall to communist forces loyal to Moscow or Peking, the result would be food shortages and widespread unrest in the rice-importing countries of South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. To counter this trend, the British believed that, similar to the provision of Marshall aid in Europe, the non-communist governments of South and South-

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