Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

'Second Colonial Occupation': The United States and British Malaya 1945-1949

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

'Second Colonial Occupation': The United States and British Malaya 1945-1949

Article excerpt


This article examines the development of events after the World War II and how these events influenced the decolonisation process of British Southeast Asia. Britain returned to claim its colonial possessions in Southeast Asia after the defeat of Japan and proposed the Malayan Union plan to further consolidate its power in Malaya. However, Britain's plan was met with furious opposition from the Malays who demanded a better deal to protect their interest as natives of Malaya. This article also focuses on how the United States reacted towards the British policy in Southeast Asia. International events such as the Cold War, the fall of China to the Communists and the Korean War have deep impact on the policies of both Britain and the United States in Southeast Asia. The United States supported Britain to retain Malaya as one of its colonies and helped Britain in dealing with the Communists. The American and British policies of returning to their former colonies before World War II were also contrary to the Atlantic Charter formed by the allies during World War II. This article showed that the Western powers had no intention to immediately renounce colonialism at the end of World War II.

Keyword: Communists, British policy, Malaya, United States foreign policy

1. Introduction

The return of the British, Dutch and French to their former colonies in the Southeast Asia after the defeat of Japan is often referred as the 'Second colonial occupation'. These Western powers tried to re-establish their sovereignty and return to the situation before World War II. World War II, however, had changed the perception of the natives towards their European masters. In Malaya, having seen the British defeat in 1942, the people had lost faith in British strength and wisdom. The natives in Indonesia and Indochina also strongly opposed the return of their colonial masters. The growth of nationalism and communism in Southeast Asia also affected the metropoles policies in their colonies.

In Europe, Britain emerged as a victorious nation at the end of the World War II in May 1945. However in the British colonies in Southeast Asia, the war still continued until mid-August. The war in the Pacific only ended with the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces on 15 August 1945. The Japanese surrender came just when the British and Indian troops gathered with their equipment at Indian ports for an assault upon the Japanese forces in Malaya.

2. Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo

During the war years, British officials in London began preparing for the post-war reorganization of Malaya. The plan for Malaya aimed at maintaining British dominion over the territory which, apart from its economic significance, was vital for safeguarding Britain's influence in Southeast Asia. (Note 1) "We envisage the restoration of our sovereignty in both Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements and of our former treaty relations with the Malay States" declared the Colonial office in June 1942. (Note 2)

When the Japanese Army surrendered, a British Military Administration (BMA) was established under the Supreme Allied Commander to govern Malaya until civil government could be restored. The BMA administered Malaya from early September 1945 until 31 March 1946. (Note 3) During this period, the British government prepared the new constitutional arrangements, which it proposed to introduce in Malaya.

Accordingly, the War Office and the Colonial Office established the Malayan Planning Unit (MPU) in the middle of 1943 to make the necessary preparation. Major-General H.R. Home was called from Cairo to take charge. (Note 4) The MPU was given the responsibility of drawing up directives covering all aspects of government, including a blueprint for the interim military government. It was announced that "the main aim of the government as regards the political future of Malaya after its liberation will be the development of its capacity for self government within the Empire. …

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