[Solved] What problems were germane to the decolonization process in the Malay Peninsula? ( UPSC GS-1 Mains 2017)

[Solved] What problems were germane to the decolonization process in the Malay Peninsula?   ( UPSC GS-1 Mains  2017)

When the British come to Malaysia in the late 1700’s. in the late 1800’s the British east Indian company traded and partly controlled. At that time, they began looking for a base in Malaya.

  • During the British rule of Malaysia, Chinese laborer came to Malaya, as miners, merchants and planters, just like people from sub-Saharan Africa were taken to America as slaves, but it wasn’t as severe.
  • Similarly, they took South Indians there as slave labour, this created a complex ethnic and religious mix, which made it a big challenge to determine the national boundaries on ethno-language-religion basis.
  • Similarly, the question of retaining the Singapore, where British had made large investments was also a big problem to start with. Ultimately several small provinces came-up apart from large province of Malay, together they merged in 1963 to form the union of Malaysia, However, later in 1965, Singapore left the union.
  • British rule brought profound effects on the nation, transforming the state socially and comically.
  • After some initial resistance in remote areas such as Borneo, the eventually reached peace and cooperation. The British devoted much effort in constructing transport infrastructure in Malaya, reduce incidents in tropical diseases, improved public health facilities.

 Malay Peninsula

 The Malay Peninsula is located in southeast Asia, which is southeastern Myanmar (Burma), southwestern Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Colonial rule was not experienced by Thailand. In the late 1950s, the British Malaya achieved self-rule.


  • The commodity prices and exchange rates were in a fluctuating condition after world war II.
  • World war II severely hit the construction and infrastructure sector.
  • The natural rubber was replaced by synthetic rubber that caused job loss to many people.
  • The total development process was stalled.
  • The post-world war phase witnessed communal violence.
  • The economic condition and politics of the Malay peninsula broke down due to the collapse of the federation.
  • The main reason behind the decolonization of the Malayan Peninsula was the syncretization process between the Malayan nationalist and the European colonial powers. Their mutual action results in a speedy decolonization process.
  • The Malay peninsula comprised of Southeastern Myanmar, South-western Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
  • It was a complex political area ruled by several sultans in different parts who accepted British ‘advisers’ making them de facto in charge.
  • After the enormous drain of the second world war and the Japanese attack on Malaya, it was realised that the time for decolonization was ripe and Britain agreed in principle. However, as it turned out, there were a lot of difficulties to overcome.
  • Firstly, the war had brought untold damage to the economy and infrastructure of the region.
  • Volatile prices and high food inflation made matters worse. Leaving hurriedly could have led to widespread riots as the Indian experience showed.
  • Secondly, the Malay peninsula was inhabited by indigenous Malays, Chinese and Indians who immigrated heavily to work as labourers in British rubber plantations and tin mines.
  • Naturally, a war of succession broke out on who would control the area. The Communist insurgency led by Chin Peng held back the decolonization process as a state of emergency was imposed from 1948 to early 1950s.
  • Finally, under the able leadership of Tunku Abdul Rehman, United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) won the election held in 1955 and the Federation of Malaya came into being in 1957.
  • Brunei decided not to join the federation and Singapore opted out in 1965 to become an independent country.

 Further reading….

 Malay Peninsula was under the British influence since they first came in the late 18th century looking towards Southeast Asia for new resources. Since then the British East India Company traded and partly controlled the region. The growth of their China trade further increased the company’s desire for bases in the region near it.

 The decolonization of Malaya Peninsula was an extension of the series of decolonization movements going across the Asia and Africa and was influenced from this process which speeded-up after the World War-II.

 Malay Peninsula was a multi-racial, multi-cultural society with Malay Chinese and Indians forming major ethnic and interest groups which was a suitable condition for colonial powers to consolidate their regime.

 Fall of Singapore and Japanese advances in Malay Peninsula during the World War–II forced the British to consider reassessment of its non-interventionist policies in favour of ethnic cooperation and multiracial government in this region.

 But with the presence of diverse interest of different groups reaching to a consensus was a tough task.

 Cold War ideological rivalry was prevalent in Malayan Peninsula too where with the rise of commintern aligned communist parties like Malayan Communist Party and Chinese Communist Organization, the fear of Malayan Peninsula falling to the Communists emerged. 

It was a nightmare for the liberal democracies/ colonial powers (i.e. British) which ensured transfer of power to ideologically friendly regimes.

 After the defeat of Japan in WW-II, the British had to put down a communist insurgency in the peninsula. With increasing anti-colonialism, the British found it pertinent as well as convenient to hand over the reins of power to indigenous Malay.

 The decolonization of Malayan Peninsula was largely a result of long reconciliation process between the Malayan nationalist and the European colonial powers. 

Their mutual compromise gave the British the confidence to speed up the process of decolonization through a smooth decolonization process.

During British rule, rubber plantations were the main source of revenue. Huge number of Chinese and Indian laborers migrated to the peninsula for employment. The revolution in synthetic rubber caused distress in this sector.

 Moreover, the Malayan government policies of preferential treatment to indigenous Malays increased social tensions in the region.

 Post British exit, the Malaysian federation including British Malay, North Borneo- Sarawak and Sabah along with Singapore was created in 1963. Singapore opted out of the federation due to political and economic differences and became a separate country.

  Apart from the ruins of WW-II, Malay Peninsula had to manage the social tensions, economic issues (especially the slump in rubber demand) and tackle a communist insurgency when British departed from the region.

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