Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Repatriation of the Chinese as a Counterinsurgency Policy during the Malayan Emergency

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Repatriation of the Chinese as a Counterinsurgency Policy during the Malayan Emergency

Article excerpt

The Malayan Emergency, which was declared by the British administration on 18 June 1948 to defeat the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and its guerrilla war, witnessed the controversial policy of repatriating suspected communist sympathisers. (1) Emergency regulations allowed for the sweeping detention of non-citizen Chinese ('alien squatters'), who then faced repatriation, along with their dependants, to China. The British administration regarded deportation as the fastest, most effective way to remove hard-core MCP elements and cripple the movement. The idea was to cut the guerrillas off from their civilian support and supply lines (Min Yuen, the MCP's underground support organisation). (2) But the British could not be sure that those whom they repatriated to China were communist supporters, (3) hence 'this policy caught large numbers of innocent people in the detention net'. (4)

This research focuses on the internal and external logistical and political challenges facing the British in London and Kuala Lumpur in implementing the deportation policy between 1948 and 1953. In doing so, it fleshes out aspects of a coercive period in the counter-insurgency campaign in Malaya, before the onset of the Briggs Plan for mass resettlement and Gerald Templer's 'hearts and minds' strategy. This era of the mass deportation of Chinese during the Emergency has been relatively under-researched in Malayan historiography. This gap was reflected even in 1950, when the British High Commissioner Henry Gurney, the major proponent of this policy, lamented: 'The importance of repatriation to the anti-Communist campaign in Malaya has become obscured by emphasis on other factors such as military reinforcements, squatter administration, police organisation and propaganda.' (5) Gurney firmly believed that these measures could not succeed 'without repatriation or deportation'. (6)

Yet the scale of the post-1948 deportations was astonishing, as the High Commissioner was quickly granted unprecedented power to order the detention and banishment, without right of appeal, of all aliens suspected of helping the 'bandits' (as the guerrillas were called). (7) Such deportations were unparalleled in Malayan history. Prior to 1939, the Banishment Ordinance had been used mostly against Chinese secret society members. It worked then because there was freedom of movement between China and Malaya, and as Noel Barber remarked, 'the threat of deportation to starving China from prosperous Malaya had always been one of the greatest deterrents to crime'. (8) The Ordinance was not, however, suitable for the large-scale deportation now argued by Gurney as necessary, and which he began implementing in late 1948. (9)

From its inception in December 1948, however, the policy of repatriation was tactically and operationally flawed, and faced legal, political, practical, and humanitarian difficulties. Civil war was raging in China between the Kuomintang (KMT, the Nationalists, then fighting to stay in power in the Republic of China, ROC) and the Communists (soon to take over and declare the People's Republic of China, PRC), and from June 1949 Chinese ports were closed to shipping. This article traces the stages of decision-making over the repatriation policy in Malaya, London, and the Far East, which were affected by foreign policy concerns over Sino-British relations, the mainland governments' overseas Chinese policies, humanitarian considerations and Malayan reactions and pressures.

This article begins by looking at the rationale behind utilising the deportation tool en mass. It then discusses the development of the repatriation policy in seven overlapping stages: securing the traffic flow during the Chinese Civil War; initiating direct negotiations with the People's Republic of China (PRC); experimenting with small-scale deportations using nonofficial channels; turning to resettlement and protection; locating new repatriation sites outside China; looking at the option of using military force; and attempting to open Formosa's door. …

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