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Colonial Security Policy and State Formation in Post-War Malaya: The Strengthening of

the Federal Government in Malaya as a Result of the Emergency

Scott C. Abel

Malaysia in the late 20th century remained remarkably stable for a state with great

ethnic diversity in contrast to many of its neighbors in Southeast Asia. The strength of

the Malaysian Federal government compared to other governments of sizeable nations in

the region was considerable. Yet, the creation of an independent Malaya in 1957 came

about during a period of political instability that required the central government to focus

on military and security expenditures rather than economic development. The prolonged

insurgency itself in Malaya possessed a comparatively minor long-term impact on

national development, despite the potentially crippling years of violence and destruction.

What was the impact of colonial security policy in relation to the central governments

ability to obtain such strength? The Malayan Emergency provided scholars and

researchers with an example of a successful counter-insurgency campaign, but few

examined the Emergencys impact on the development of a centralized government in

Malaysia. The strength of the response to the insurgency during the Emergency by the

Commonwealth and the Malayan governments security forces, policymakers, and civil

service provided for a significant factor in the strength of the Federal government in

Kuala Lumpur for decades afterwards.

World War II devastated Malaya, like much of Southeast Asia in the years after

1945, with much of society and the political system in disarray. During the fall of

Malaya to Japan, British forces destruction much of the tin industrys equipment in

combination with insufficient demand from Japans domestic market for both the tin and

rubber industries devastated production levels. The war left many former workers

unemployed and living on lands without the title or squatters. The Japanese occupiers

of Malaya exploited ethnic tensions in favor of the ethnic Malays over the Chinese and

other communities. Malays received higher positions in the civil service, like those

formerly held by British administrators such as the district officer and received

administrative training and rights to form associations. The Malay education system also

continued.1 The government in Malaya during the Japanese occupation heavily favored

the Malay population, fomenting ethnic tensions while attempting to restructure the entire

administration without the presence of Europeans. Years of occupation weakened the

economy significantly and ultimately Malayas political system.

During the war, the British military helped organizations like the Malayan

Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) fight the Imperial Japanese Army despite its

domination by the largely Chinese Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The Anti-Japanese

Union supported the MPAJA as its civilian wing and later evolved into Min Yuen, an

important faction during the Emergency. The resistance of the Chinese community

unified it in spite of its multiple linguistic dialects and further divided the populace,

particularly against the Malay-dominated police. The MPAJA gained valuable military

experience during their guerrilla warfare against Japanese and established a relationship

with the native Orang Asli in the jungle.2 After the war, the MPAJA disbanded and

returned most of the weapons supplied by British forces, but guerrillas retained roughly

20% of those weapons, along with weapons seized from the Japanese during the war.

Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Andaya, A History of Malaysia, (Honolulu, University of Hawaii
Press, 2001), 258-259.
Andaya and Andaya, A History of Malaysia, 260-262.

The MCP largely recovered from the losses during the war in regard to labor

movements.3 Malaya after World War II was similar to many other territories throughout

the world in that years of brutal occupation and warfare left populations divided and the

economies weakened without the presence of an effective government. The strength of

the Malayan Communist Party and its reputation among the Chinese community placed

itself for a strong position after the war in the exploitation of the weak economy and

government in Malaya.

The alliance between the British government and the Malayan communists lasted

only a short while as once their mutual opponent, the Empire of Japan dissolved and

therefore lacked sufficient reason for cooperation. Despite the momentum of the spread

of communism in the post-war era, the Malayan Communist Party had an uphill battle for

the establishment of a communist government as only the Chinese-Malayans appeared

interested the ideology. The British colonial authority retained the loyalty of the Muslim-

Malay majority as they were sufficiently content with the colonial government and

suspicious of communism. Social divisions along ethnic lines in Malaya prevented the

MCP from expanding out of the Chinese minority and into the Indian and Malay

populations.4 The ethnic diverseness of Malaya made unity in forming a common

government more difficult and therefore the presence of a colonial government seemed

more palatable for most Malayans at the time, particularly with the devastation and

mutual suspicion after the war, than a risky attempt at a united and independent


John Coates, Suppressing Insurgency: An Analysis of the Malayan Emergency, 1948-1954, (San
Francisco: Westview Press, 1992), 13.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 8.

The aftermath of Japanese occupation left a severely weakened British colonial

government in Malaya with a substantially understaffed and undersupplied government.

The power of the government, particularly in rural areas threatened the strength and

stability of British power in the colony. Often a maximum of seven policemen guarded

rural posts against the potential onslaught of insurgents. Administratively, high-ranking

officers feared the combat of fighting communist insurgents would present

insurmountable challenges and force them out of office. Furthermore, survivors of the

disaster during the war often mixed poorly with newcomers unfamiliar with Malaya and

their terrible experiences during the war. By the beginning of the Emergency, there were

too few policemen with inadequate supplies of arms, uniforms, vehicles, and equipment.5

The lack of law enforcement made the option of creating an insurgency by the MCP more

viable as the states power was extraordinarily weak with the colonial government busy

reestablishing its power from the ashes of war and occupation.

The Malayan police faced serious image problems with the general population

and a general level of ineffectiveness before the Emergency, which impeded their ability

to perform their duties effectively. The Malayan police force in 1947 had 130 European

gazetted officers, while the other ethnicities possessed less representation with nineteen

Malays, three Indians, and two Chinese. Malays, however, represented a majority of the

rank-and-file policemen with 7,999 in comparison to only 402 Chinese policemen. The

police represented the Indian community fairly well particularly in regard to police

inspectors with forty-one compared to 115 Malays and only twenty-four Chinese

inspectors.6 The police proved overall ineffective in the postwar years with an inability to

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 30-31.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 43.

prevent or solve brutal crimes made more common by easily available firearms.

Rampant corruption amongst policemen exacerbated their ineffectiveness and poor

reputation.7 The Malayan polices obstacles such as poor representation of the Chinese

community within its ranks in comparison to other ethnicities and its overall

ineffectiveness in maintaining public order symbolized the overall problems of the

Malayan colonial government.

The MCP integrated itself closely within the Chinese community throughout

much of the Emergency, forcing the governments development of a meticulous approach

in separating insurgents from the community. Chinese unquestionably dominated the

MCP as they composed roughly 95% of the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA),

while Malays, composed only around 5% by February 1949. The Malay unit, Pahang

10th Regiment, was mainly for propaganda purposes and disappeared within a year.8 The

MCPs Masses Executives expropriated funds from the Chinese community with

particular attention toward landowners and small businessmen. The political structure

proved resilient because the complete destruction of a MCP district required the

simultaneous elimination of all its branches. The party found support within the

disaffected squatter population, while the global advances of their ideological allies

boosted morale. Insurgent operations had fewer than 300 troops and directed quarter of

their assaults on economic assets like tin mines and rubber plantations between 1948 and

1951.9 The MCP simultaneously integrated itself within the economic structure to a

degree by extracting resources from the business community while waging economic

warfare on the government. The connection between the MCP and businesses required

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 28.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 49.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 58-62.

the government to split the MCP from its funding source and its recruitment from


The strength of Malayas government resided in what gave the colony such

prosperity in previous years, the strong export sector that funded the government. Tin

mining supported the strength of Malaya, particularly toward Chinese and European

firms as an overall important part of its economy. Rubber was the main export of Malaya

since 1916, at the time of the Emergency, and remained so until 1980 with its plantations

particularly concentrated along the west coast. Rubber trees offered even small

landholders an income from trees productive lives of around thirty years throughout

much of Malaya. The product, like the country, thrived with the automobile industry.

During the Emergency, the Korean War buoyed the price of rubber and tin, which

strengthened the rubber producers and weakened the strength of the MCP.10 The conflict

was particularly useful to the Malayan governments budget because the rubber crop had

bad years during 1951 and 1952.11 By the time of the Emergency in 1948, Malaya was

the largest producer of rubber with the United States importing 371,000 tons of rubber

and 155,000 tons of tin, which earned Great Britain $US 170 million in times of budget

woes.12 The global importance of the industries permitted the relative economic stability

of Malaya and the strength of its government. Revenue from these strong industries

offered to support the Malayan colonial and British governments as important factors in

the preservation of the state and political incentive for the defense of Malaya.

The general attitudes of the European population toward other residents of

Malaya, within and outside the government, in Malaya in the pre-war era no longer

Andaya and Andaya, A History of Malaysia, 214, 215, 218, 219, 273.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 93.
Leone Comber, Malayas Secret Police 1945-1960, (Victoria: Monash University Press, 2008), 14.

became viable if the populations support was to remain acceptable. During the initial

stages of the Emergency, overall government procedure lacked formality and a highly

centralized structure. Its structure was conducive to departmental infighting, which led to

complacency in the fight against the MCP. The Europeans needed a changing of culture

within Malaya, particularly in regard to racism and discrimination. The problem of

racism threatened the support of mainly Asian intellectuals and perhaps other members of

the Asian elite as European clubs banned their entrance. The government recommended

such clubs either eliminate or at least loosen restrictions by allowing Asians into clubs at

least on certain occasions.13 A splintered command and institutionalized racism favoring

Europeans represented aspects of elite culture with Malaya requiring reform as either

aspect damaged the overall effectiveness and reputation of the government and the

European elite. Embodying anti-discrimination practices to an extent remained an

important concept in Malaya because of its diverse population and proportionately high

ethnic minorities past independence.

The civil service in Malaya also required revitalization in the postwar period

because of its complicity in the occupation, the general mistrust of it, and the overall

weakness of the organization. According to former civil servants, the post-war

administration of the government was out-of-touch with the general population. The

machinery of the state spun ineffectively as the MCP prepared for its uprising against the

colonial government. However, the higher levels of government prepared well-enough

for the Emergencys containment and the protection of vital economic assets like the tin

mines and rubber plantations in large part because of the efforts of Commissioner-

General Malcolm MacDonald. The employment of auxiliaries and kampong guards

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 38-39.

protected the economic assets to a sufficient extent, while the Frontier Force and Royal

Navy patrolled for the interception of incoming supplies for the insurgents. During the

Emergency, the government instituted a national registration system that made

surveillance of the population more effective. The 150-page Comprehensive Emergency

Regulations finished in 1953 permitted a states Mentri Besar the power to seize

businesses suspected of helping the insurgency.14 The government of Malaya evolved

from a relatively weak institution to a gradually stronger one that more heavily involved

itself with the population.

The Malayan government needed restructuring as the insurgents threatened

instability throughout the peninsula and the overall strength of the state. High

Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney, in part to reassure the planters and maintain the new

Malayan Federation formed the Director of Operations, a civilian post, as the commander

in of charge of the armed forces in Malaya. Under the recommendation of Field Marshal

Slim, Gurney selected retired Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Rawdon Briggs, a veteran of

conflicts throughout Asia with extensive experience in Burma, who arrived in Malaya in

April 1950. Briggs formulated a plan for removing the insurgency by the creation of an

effective government that removed the reasons for people supporting the MCP and the

Min Yuen. Briggs recognized that the MCP and Min Yuens extortion and violence

emanated from ineffective governance by the authorities. Quelling the insurgency

required an overarching plan for the development of the federal and state governments

that convinced or even allowed peoples resistance of the insurgents.15 The Briggs Plan

offered solutions for the suppression of the insurgency with greater capability for

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 35-36.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 80-82.

implementation by a centralized command. However, the results of Briggs policies

extended far beyond the Emergency period as an overall mechanism for state power,

organization, and centralization.

Briggs, the civil service, and the security forces strengthen the power of the

Malayan state through meticulous examination and economic development that

ultimately weakened the communist insurgents. Briggs plan relocated roughly 500,000

inhabitants near the edge of the jungle to settlements called New Villages, which

removed Min Yuens support from their grasp. The construction resettlement villages in

June 1950 placed people under civil administration and the watchful eyes of policemen.16

The Chinese squatters, who Briggs wanted under government control, lived by their rules

with their own justice system, which meant the government needed the restructuring of

local governance. Even if the government forcibly removed populations, little prevented

them from moving back at first. Furthermore, the government realized a majority of the

displaced were women, children, and the elderly.17 Strengthening the government

required bringing hundreds of thousands of people under government surveillance in

semi-fortified villages, which deprived the MCP and Min Yuen of their support structure.

The relocation of squatters integrated them into the states power structure,

strengthened the government in the long-term through tracking, and allowed the

governments control of its citizens. The new communities under construction by the

government required the necessary personnel and infrastructure designed for the winning

over the Chinese population to the state and away from the insurgents. The villages

required adequate protection from MCP assault with guards and fortifications, along with

Karl Hack, Iron Claws on Malaya: The Historiography of the Malayan Emergency, 30 No. 1 (1999),
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 86-88.

radio communications to report back to central command and possibly request

reinforcements. Aside from general housing, the villages contained government

administration and reception that also gathered information from its inhabitants. The

villages also employed propaganda through cinema and local schools to win over the

population. The administrators rewarded good behavior through the granting of land

titles and punished unacceptable behavior through the cessation of trade. The

government balanced the needs of Chinese and Malay villages to avoid the appearance of

unfairness, while allowing a sustainable existence by placing the settlements near arable

lands.18 By late 1951, the government relocated 350,000 inhabitants to the New Villages,

which brought more inhabitants under government administration. Furthermore, the

government regrouped employees of tin mines and plantations who eventually reached

600,000 in number. The MCP admitted the supply troubles caused by the removal of

their economic support such as relocation of the squatters within its own directives by

October 1951, which forced their change of tactics within a year.19 The development of

government-controlled settlements brought significant numbers of people under the

protection of the government and turned them into Malayan citizens.

New Villages isolated the Chinese population from the insurgents in the jungle

and deprived the insurgency of its essential support. Often the resettlement villages,

particularly in the earlier years of the Emergency, operated similar to the imprisonment of

communities despite the government attempts at modern facilities. In 1952, the

government provided rather poor treatment with communities too far from fields or

lacking sufficient farming land. Conditions were rather poor as in at least one instance

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 88-89.
Hack, Iron Claws on Malaya, 103, 106.

where the villagers had no easy access to clean water. The New Villages offered

unsanitary conditions for some as late as 1954. The government even imposed a twenty-

two hour curfew on the village of Tanjong Malim for the villagers unwillingness or

inability in providing information on local ambushes.20 The area around Tanjong Malim

had an exceptionally violent record with five successful ambushes and fifteen murders,

along with the burning of eight buses and trucks. Insurgents sabotaged of water pipes

and 6,000 rubber trees. The situation there became particularly bloody on March 25,

1952 when insurgents killed the district officer and eleven other men. The government

punished the town collectively with rice ration reductions, school closures, and the

removal of its status as district capital.21 The villagers best option for departing from the

New Villages was voluntary emigration to the Peoples Republic of China, which many

Chinese-Malayans chose as a means to escape.22 Squatters had few options as they chose

between living in confining conditions the early days of the camps or the option of sailing

for China to start a completely new life there. Either way, the government consolidated

its control over a population sympathetic to the MCP.

The development of resettlement villages proved a costly but successful strategy

in the counter-insurgency, which played a significant part in bringing political stability to

Malaya. The government built 500 resettlement villages between 1950 and 1960, losing

only six during the Emergency. Procedurally, the army surrounded squatter villages and

rounded up the population, taking the people and all their moveable possessions to a new

settlement. Army forces destroyed anything left behind and compensated the squatters

for the items destroyed. Aside from the emotional trauma of being forcibly moved, the

Hack, Iron Claws on Malaya, 115, 116, 117.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 128.
Hack, Iron Claws on Malaya, 117.

regrouping of communities angered mining and plantation interests, but ultimately the

operation succeeded. The Chinese dominated an overwhelming majority of the villages

with only forty Malay villages relocated closer to roads and police stations, but the

Malays returned to their old sites later whereas the Chinese urban population exploded

with increased between 163% and 400% from 1947 to 1957.23 Ultimately, the relocation

of the Chinese population into urban environments accelerated their economic status with

society, while remaining under a degree of state control brought on by the British reaction

to the insurgency.

The government also selected inhabitants of Malaya who supported insurgents

and their apparatus for removal while rewarding inhabitants loyal to the state. Basically,

the states policies were tantamount to the selection of Malayas citizenry. Some

Chinese-Malayans and Malays formed Home Guard units in coordination with the state

that armed them with batons. Once a Home Guard unit proved its loyalty to the

government, the district officer provided shotguns as he deemed appropriate. The units

acted under the supervision of the local police. Furthermore, the government repatriated

individuals suspected of supporting the MCP to the land of their birth, which usually

meant China.24 Ultimately, the government deported 12,000 people suspected of

supporting the communists.25 Through policies of organizing Home Guard units, the

security forces brought communities closer to the government by giving them a place

within and supplementing the overall security apparatus. The deportation of suspected

insurgent supporters permitted the removal of threats to society without the burdensome

process of a prolonged detention.

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 89-93.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 95-97.
Hack, Iron Claws on Malaya,123.

The British government eventually realized the seriousness of the insurgency in

Malaya and decided that the weakness of the colonial government in the maintenance of

order required greater attention. The ambush and killing of High Commissioner Sir

Henry Gurney on October 6, 1951 north of Kuala Lumpur by MRLA forces on Fraser

Hill Road sent a shockwave throughout the empire. Briggs resigned because of ill health

and died shortly thereafter in October 1952. Royal Federation Police Commissioner

Colonel W. Gray also resigned. Gray was instrumental in the expansion of the police

force with more people and equipment, including a new radio communication system, but

caused too much displeasure with influential people in Malaya. General Sir Gerald

Templer took both positions of High Commissioner and Director of Operations on

February 5, 1952. Aside from his fighting on the battlefield, Templer possessed

experience in postwar governance of Germany and with military intelligence. He

received more power as the civilian and military executive than any other British

dependency or colony in history. He vowed eventual Malayan independence and Great

Britains commitment to defeat the communist insurgents.26 The rapid change in ranks in

Malaya centralized vast authority to a single individual who played a critical role in the

development of an organized and centralized Malayan government.

Templer recognized the importance of strengthening non-military institutions for

improving colonial security and the preservation of the governments power. He directed

the Chief Secretary as the person responsible for the welfare and development of the New

Villages.27 The relocated villagers received electric generators and improved defenses,

along with medical facilities in an effort to improve their lives. The creation of the Local

Robert Jackson, The Malayan Emergency: The Commonwealths wars 1948-1966, (New York:
Routledge, 1991, 23-24.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 115.

Councils Ordinance in August 1952 called for elections of local councils, which became

extensions of the state by collecting taxes and developing structures like community

halls. By May, the formation of such councils through elections commenced and by May

of 1954, 209 Chinese local councils took session. In the governments schools, students

learned about civics as to make them acceptable citizens. In Operation Ginger, the

government sent teams from administrative departments, police, and the military to areas

for the improvement of social services and security.28 Templer considered the social

programs so critical that once tin and rubber prices fell in 1953 leaving a deficit of 146

million Malayan dollars, he cut security forces over cutting social services.29 The

government forced the keeping of records of financial transactions and harvests by

shopkeepers and farmers to prevent their support of the insurgents.30 Templer and his

administration employed civil services and local democratic principles for Chinese-

Malayans to strengthen the central government by integrating governance and tax

collection into populations that previously lived outside government control.

Furthermore, the colonial government instituted progressive reforms to win over

the populace by giving individuals more rights while employing propaganda to win over

the population. Government institutions such as the Malayan Broadcasting Service, the

Emergency Information Services, the Malayan Film Unit, and the Department of

Information spread pro-government propaganda. Templer worked with a Burma

information warfare veteran named A. Peterson to divide the anti-colonialists in Malaya

from the communists. On September 14, 1952, the colonial government granted federal

citizenship with suffrage for all levels of government. The government brought modern

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 119-120.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 123, 124.
Jackson, The Malayan Emergency, 116.

conveniences to citizens when possible while allowing them to own garden plots and

businesses. Increased regulation fought usurious interest rates levels and firms that

overworked employees. With greater favorability of the government, people provided

information about insurgents and their locations.31 The development of reforms brought

more people on the side of the government by attacking their grievances and dissuading

them from supporting the MCP.

The Malayan government required the development of a sophisticated intelligence

agency for its own strength, particularly during a vicious insurgency. Cooperation

between the British government and Malayans of various ethnicities strengthened the

state and provided internal security against counter-government forces. Intelligence

gathering proved an important part of Malayas effort against the MCP as an effective

intelligence agency was an important part of the modern state that continued in

strengthening Malaya after colonialism.32 The Malayan Secret Service was the

governments intelligence agency after the war and collected information on subversives

within the Malay Peninsula, along with disseminating intelligence and advising the

government. The Special Branch mostly replaced the old agency but found difficulties

without an adequate number of translators, which left captured documents unread.33

However, reforms within the Special Branch elevated it as the Malayan Federal

governments prime information-gathering apparatus.34 Malayas Special Branch

collected, analyzed, and disseminated intelligence as a vital part of the war effort, but the

formation of the Special Branch took years of development before it became an effective

intelligence agency.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 125, 126.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 1.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 25, 59.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 98.

The Special Branch reorganized in adaptation to the conditions in Malaya as to

more effectively strengthen the governments understanding of the population. The main

problem remained too few translators, particularly for the Chinese language as once the

Special Branch expanded throughout the state and federal levels of government it

possessed too few Chinese translators and no Chinese high-ranking officials. At the

federal level, the Special Branch divided into ethnic groups such Chinese, Malay, and

another group that accounted for the other minorities. Given the importance of the

Chinese to the insurgency, the head of the Chinese section was also an assistant

superintendant of police. The Malayan police force received Britons from other services

including 495 British sergeants who served in Palestine as policemen, along with the

attachment of a British Army Intelligence captain.35 The efforts of the Special Branch

focused mostly on developing human intelligence through planting agents not only with

Min Yuen, but also in New Villages and courier systems. With such information, the

Special Branch gained an understanding of how the insurgency operated and its

leadership structure. Captured documents also played an important role in gaining an

understanding of the MCP, MRLA, and Min Yuen by revealing their operational and

political workings.36 Developing the governments intelligence capability helped it gain

an understanding of its opponents. The reliance on human intelligence provided a low

technology means of gathering information that the future independent government


At the beginning of the Emergency, the government was in dire need of a

restructured intelligence gathering and dissemination system. Director of Intelligence Sir

Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 60-61.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 79.

William Jenkin reorganized the Special Branch into a more effective intelligence

agency.37 Jenkin opened two training schools for the Special Branch and the Criminal

Investigation Department in January 1951 that trained detectives and gazetted police

officers. Jenkin worked with Briggs and the Security Liaison Officer from MI5 in

developing a counter-insurgency strategy by targeting the support structure, Min Yuen.38

To face the problems regarding a lack of Chinese language speakers, the government set

up schools in the summer of 1951 for the teaching of Cantonese and Hokkien for five and

a half months for the training of officers in basic Chinese.39 In his final days in office,

Briggs recognized the improved gathering of intelligence and its dissemination to the

army and police. Jenkins restructuring of the Special Branch helped strengthen the

government and defeat the insurgency. Although Briggs departed his office on December

1, 1951, Templer continued Briggs legacy of developing a sophisticated and centralized

intelligence system.40 During the Emergency, the government set up schools as structural

means of strengthening its intelligence gathering and investigative capabilities. Briggs

and his compatriots within the Malayan government set up a strategic framework for the

development of an intelligence system that vastly strengthened the power of the Malayan


The strengthening of the Malayan state also required better representation of the

Chinese community within the investigative and intelligence wings of the government.

Both Tan Cheng Lock of the Malayan Chinese Association and Oliver Lyttelton of the

Colonial Office advised for the increased presence of Chinese-Malayans in the

Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 141.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 141.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 115-116.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 99; Jackson, The Malayan Emergency, 25.

government, including the training of Chinese intelligence officers and law

enforcement.41 Jenkin realized the importance of training more Chinese in the Special

Branch and Criminal Investigation Department in 1950 and increased their numbers as

inspectors and gazetted officers. The candidates possessed excellent Chinese language

skills and became valuable people within the government once they became operational.

Under the Special Branch interrogators visited detention camps for obtaining information

from prisoners and separating hard-core insurgents from less-convinced prisoners.42

Early in the Emergency, interrogators employed coercive means and truth serums for

obtaining information, but the government realized softer treatment of prisoners as less

offensive to the civilian population and made insurgents less resistant to surrender.43

Chinese officers from the Special Branch interrogated people with their knowledge of

Chinese languages and customs to greater effect.44 The inclusion of ethnic Chinese

within the police investigative forces strengthened the governments ability to control the

Chinese population in Malaya during the Emergency and for long after independence

with the structural formation of the Special Branch under British authorities.

The vicious nature of the insurgency and heroism by Malayan security forces

contributed to the construction of a national identity. The heroism of particular units

strengthened the resolve of Malayans loyal to the state, while the brutality of the MCP

isolated the organization from much of the public. The valiant defense of Bukit Kepong

in Johor in February 1950 by thirteen policemen, six kampong guards, and their wives

exemplified the bravery of security forces fighting the MCP and the willingness to die for

the cause of Malaya. The defenders held off the assault by around one hundred eighty to
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 118-122.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 131-134.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 83.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 137.

two hundred MCP insurgents for approximately four or five hours. Once the defenders of

Bukit Kepong fell, their wives continued fighting and even a marine policeman who

could have sped away in his boat but fought until his death. The MCP insurgents shot

one woman who surrendered and killed two children after they overran the police

position.45 Bravery in the face of battle consolidated the national Malayan consciousness

as demonstrated in the National Memorial in Kuala Lumpur that commemorated the

sacrifice of Malayan soldiers in wartime.46 The bravery of security forces in fighting the

insurgents consolidated the Malayan national consciousness and solidified the resolve of

Malayans in continuing the fight particularly when women and children died at the hands

of the MCP insurgents.

Building a strong military in Malaya required assistance from Commonwealth

troops as the forces within Malaya were far too small for a counterinsurgency campaign

at the beginning. At the beginning of the conflict, the military presence in Malaya was

small with the Malay Regiments two battalions and a brigade of Gurkhas spread

throughout the peninsula and Singapore. Of the British military units the 26th Field

Regiment Royal Artillery was on the mainland while Singapore had the 1st Battalion of

the Field Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders and the Kings Own

Yorkshire Light Infantry defended Penang. The British units were not at full strength and

had little if no experience in jungle combat and generally defended estates and mines in

the early part of the conflict. The military set up training facilities at the Far East Land

Forces Training Centre in Kota Tinggi in 1949 and developed counterinsurgency tactics

Brian Stewart, Smashing Terrorism in the Malayan Emergency: The Vital Contribution of the Police,
(Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk, 2004), 1-5; Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 80.
National Monument, Tourism Malaysia,

in the Anti Terrorist Operations in Malaya field manual or ATOM.47 Malaya required the

assistance of Commonwealth forces as native units comprised too small of the overall

proportion of the armed forces in the colony. For the stabilization of the state, Malaya

needed time for the development of government power, of which the military played a

vital role.

The Malayan military also vastly expanded during the Emergency with

Commonwealth troops deploying for combat with the insurgents. Even as more units like

the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and 2nd Guards Brigade arrived in Malaya, the military

required time for counter-insurgency training, along with understanding locals and

gaining their confidence.48 During the Emergency, the British government financed the

training of a multi-ethnic regiment for the future independent and self-governing

Malayan Federation Army with a grant of 8 million even though the enlistment of

Indians and Chinese proved slow.49 Military units focused on gathering intelligence in

addition to combat through unit diaries and notes.50 Malaya received assistance from six

Gurkha and six British battalions, along with an Australian and African battalion, the

latter of which had a high kill rate of 1.13 enemies per contact. Despite the presence of

the Commonwealth troops, the seven battalions of the Royal Malay Regiment bore the

brunt of the fighting. In addition, a New Zealand squadron of Special Air Service

members contributed to the fighting, along with various armored and supporting units

that contributed to the security forces in Malaya.51 However, the most effective unit was

the Fijian battalion that hunted down insurgents with great skills in tracking, shooting,

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 32-33.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 33-34.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 121-122.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 125.
Jackson, The Malayan Emergency, 19, 117.

and speeds through the jungles.52 Six navy destroyers patrolled for supply interdiction,

searching 1,000 coastal vessels in May 1952 alone, and navy helicopters carried troops

into and out of battle.53 The Commonwealth military supported the government, which

centralized Malayan as the native forces learned the art of jungle combat and gave the

state time for development.

Having strong bureaucracies within the government alone was insufficient for the

development of a truly united nation as people needed a personal connection to the cause

of the government, either directly or indirectly through a political party. Importantly, the

British government promised full independence to Malaya and held elections, which gave

the people of Malaya a reason for siding with the government against the communists for

the nationalists to fight the MCP and its supporters.54 With independence, the Malays of

the United Malayan National Organisation (UMNO) allied with the Malayan Chinese

Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress in formation of the Malayan

National Alliance. Furthermore, the government moved closer toward complete Malayan

control of the civil service as British servants retired or relocated.55 The Malayan

National Alliance offered the possibility of a government that no single ethnicity would

completely dominate the others. Regardless of whether that was the case; it legitimized

toward the new government and weakened the MCP as the fight against colonialism no

longer made sense.

The development of a strong intelligence agency developed along the lines of

traditional human intelligence arose from the violence of the Emergency and the help,

financial and the experiences of British intelligence officials, which held Malaya together.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 166.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 169-170.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 283-284.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 269.

Prior to the insurrection, the British colonial machinery, particularly the intelligence

apparatus failed in appreciating the threat of the MCP as the Malayan Secret Service

operated mainly in urban areas and therefore the government failed in preventing the

insurgency.56 However, by independence in 1957 the government substantially increased

the power of the intelligence and its law enforcement agencies it inherited from colonial

rule. The Malayan civil service experienced an overall shift from having a large number

of Europeans to being staffed by Malayans, but the police retired or moved elsewhere

slower because of the ongoing insurgency.57 The Special Branch identified insurgents

because its employees who possessed knowledge of local languages, various cultures,

and a professional training. Asian officers in the Special Branch provided a valuable

contribution to the governments efforts in the Emergency.58 By the end of the

Emergency, Malaya possessed the finest police intelligence agency in Southeast Asia, the

Special Bureau, in Southeast Asia with the ability to understand the languages, cultures,

and politics of the governments opponents.59 Malayas government became much

stronger with such an effective intelligence system, allowing a centralized authority to

wield great power in suppressing potential domestic adversaries.

Despite the odds and against historical trends, Malaya centralized the power of its

state to remarkable degree in large part because of the reaction to the MCP-led

insurgency by the Malayan government and the Commonwealth. According to a study by

Brian Taylor and Roxana Botea, ethnic diversity or fractionalization inhibited state

strength, but Malaysia countered such an argument as it was the strongest state of the

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 23-24.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 269, 271.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 283-285.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 289.

nations examined and yet possessed a diverse population.60 Furthermore, tracking

insurgents in the hilly jungles of Malaya proved exceedingly difficult for the armed

forces.61 Such factors inclined Malaysia to a history of decentralized governance and yet

the nation defied the odds and united under a strong central government. Although other

reasons existed for the development of a centralized state, the Emergency brought the

nation under the power of the government with its military, law enforcement,

intelligence, and social programs.

The Emergency permitted the governments control over populations as it

previously possessed weak or scant control over the Chinese and the Orang Asli. The

MCP employed the Orang Asli jungle inhabitants as suppliers and intelligence providers,

requiring the governments construction of eleven forts by 1953 for the separation of the

Orang Asli from the MCP. The numbers of Orang Asli under MCP sway fell from 60,000

to 400 by 1956.62 The MCA accommodated the interests of the UMNO as represented by

the small group of educated professional Chinese who reached out to small Chinese

businesses and guilds for support.63 The policies of the government during the

Emergency brought the ethnic Chinese population of Malaya under greater control as it

possessed the ability to tax, police, observe, and administer people formerly outside of its

authority. As the wealth of the people grew, the state already possessed the bureaucratic

instruments for extraction, while business classes stayed relatively separate from the state

in large part because of ethnic differences and the states strength.

Brian D. Taylor and Roxana Botea, Tilly Tally: War-making and State-making in the Contemporary
Third World, International Studies Review 10 (2008), 35-37.
Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 31, 143, 145.
Jackson, The Malayan Emergency, 21.
Andaya and Andaya, A History of Malaysia, 278-279.

The institutions of the state became powerful because of the Emergency and the

assistance from the Commonwealth nations, but Malaya avoided dependency on foreign

powers for its stability. The balancing-out and empowerment of the police force came

about through the increased presence of Indians and Chinese as part of the governments

strategy during the Emergency. In 1952, Chinese and Indian gazetted officers rose to

sixteen and eighteen respectively in comparison to fifty-four Malays, along with

inspectors who rose to 281 and 170 respectively with a total of 264 Malay inspectors.64

The police force grew to 22,187 men with 900 armored vehicles that same year.65 The

Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia, the head of state, announced the end of the

Emergency on July 31, 1960.66 One estimate placed the total cost of the counter-

insurgency before independence at 700 million with the British government paying 525

million, while Harry Miller placed the cost at 5.15 billion Malayan dollars.67 The cost in

lives of government security forces reached 1,346 killed and 1,601 wounded, whereas the

army lost 519 killed and 959 wounded.68 Although the Malayan government bore less of

the financial cost, the government established enough of a bureaucratic infrastructure for

the preservation of the state. Offsetting of the financial and human costs of the conflict

along with the expensive relocation of people to the Malayan government was assistance

from the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations.

The overall response to the Malayan Communist Party insurgency or the

Emergency from 1948 to 1960 enabled the strength of the Malayan Federal government

to a large extent. With the large amount of military and financial assistance from abroad,

Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 43.
Jackson, The Malayan Emergency, 17; Coates, Suppressing Insurgency, 166.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 281.
Jackson, The Malayan Emergency, 115; Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 70.
Comber, Malayas Secret Police, 70.

the Malayan government eliminated an insurgency that threatened the political stability

and the economic well-being of the country of the peninsula. The establishment of an

effective police force with its own intelligence agency strengthened the governments

power over its populace from virtually nothing in fifteen years was remarkable. The

planning and brutal effectiveness of British officers like Briggs and Templer turned the

ineffective and weak government of Malaya into a strong and centralized government

that better represented Malayas ethnic diversity than the pre-Emergency years in law

enforcement, civil administration and the military. The strength of the government and

the overall effectiveness of the state improved vastly because the Malayan people

ultimately supported the government over the insurgents. Once the insurgency ended, the

state still possessed the strength it developed including the powers of coercion and


Works Cited:

Andaya, Barbara Watson and Andaya, Leonard. A History of Malaysia. Honolulu,

University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

Coates, John. Suppressing Insurgency: An Analysis of the Malayan Emergency,

1948-1954. San Francisco: Westview Press, 1992.

Comber, Leone. Malayas Secret Police 1945-1960. Victoria: Monash University

Press, 2008.

Hack, Karl. Iron Claws on Malaya: The Historiography of the Malayan

Emergency. 30 No. 1 (1999).

Jackson, Robert. The Malayan Emergency: The Commonwealths wars 1948-

1966. New York: Routledge, 1991.

National Monument. Tourism Malaysia.


Stewart, Brian. Smashing Terrorism in the Malayan Emergency: The Vital

Contribution of the Police. Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk, 2004.

Taylor, Brian D. and Botea, Roxana. Tilly Tally: War-making and State-making

in the Contemporary Third World. International Studies Review 10 (2008).

Tilly, Charles. War Making and State Making as Organized Crime. In Bringing

the State Back In edited by Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol.

New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.