so-called “emergency” in Malaya – now Malaysia – between 1948 and 1960
was a counter-insurgency campaign waged by Britain against the Malayan
National Liberation Army (MNLA).
The MNLA sought independence
from the British empire and to protect the interests of the Chinese
community in the territory. Largely the creation of the Malayan
Communist Party (MCP), the MNLA’s members were mainly Chinese.
although the war in southeast Asia has long been presented in most
British analyses as a struggle against communism during the cold war,
the MNLA received very little support from Soviet or Chinese
communists. Rather, the major concern for British governments was
protecting their commercial interests in the colony, which were mainly
rubber and tin.
A Colonial Office report from 1950 noted that
Malaya’s rubber and tin mining industries were the biggest earners in
the British Commonwealth. Malaya was the world’s top producer of rubber,
accounting for 75 per cent of the territory’s income, and its biggest
As a result of colonialism, Malaya was effectively owned
by European, primarily British, businesses, with British capital behind
most large Malayan enterprises. Some 70 per cent of the acreage of
rubber estates was owned by European, primarily British, companies.
was described by one British Lord in 1952 as the “greatest material
prize in South-East Asia”, mainly due to its rubber and tin. These
resources were “very fortunate” for Britain, another Lord declared,
since “they have very largely supported the standard of living of the
people of this country and the sterling area ever since the war ended”.
He added: “What we should do without Malaya, and its earnings in tin and rubber, I do not know”.
insurgency threatened control over this “material prize”. The Colonial
Secretary in Britain’s Labour government, Arthur Creech-Jones, remarked
in 1948 that “it would gravely worsen the whole dollar balance of the
Sterling Area if there were serious interference with Malayan exports”.
Labour government of Clement Attlee dispatched the British military to
the territory in 1948 in a classic imperial role, largely to protect
those commercial interests. “In its narrower context”, the
Foreign Office observed in a secret file, the “war against bandits is
very much a war in defence of [the] rubber industry”.