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Historical documents

210 Stuart to Burton

Letter SINGAPORE, 13 May 1949


As you say in your letter of the 10th May 1949, the important
issue is what alternative there is to the United Kingdom
Government's current policy of working for a 'Malayan', i.e.

Malay-Chinese-Indian, solution in this country.

2. I believe myself that it can only be a Malay one, and that this
in turn really means an Indonesian one, for Malaya as a sovereign
state could never resist Chinese pressure on its own. This is also
the established belief of the Malay leaders themselves.

3. The strength of the Malay population in the Federation is at
present 2,403,000, an increase of 27.1% on the 1931 figure of
1,891,000, while the Chinese population is 1,883,000-an increase
of 46.2% on the 1931 figure of 1,288,000. In Singapore Island
729,000 of the total 940,000 are Chinese. There is apparently no
way of telling what proportion of the Chinese increase is due to
natural increase or to immigration but as immigration was almost
unrestricted until 1939, a large proportion of it must be from
this source. On the other hand, infant mortality among Malays is
very much higher than among Chinese.

4. If the two parties were left to themselves now the Malays would
probably seize power with the help of the considerable armed
forces at their disposal, and turn the Chinese into a minority,
without political rights, but dominating the economic life of the
country as is the case in Siam. But without support from Indonesia
it is doubtful whether the Malays could retain such a political
hegemony once the Chinese here were able to count on support from
their homeland.

5. As you know, the Malays have a considerable footing in the
administration, both in the State Governments and in the
territorial districts, as a result of preferential treatment
accorded them by the British authorities. They also have free and
compulsory primary education in the Malay language. Their relative
backwardness to the Chinese seems to derive largely from their
unwillingness hitherto to leave the land for employment in
industry, or to engage in commerce, and their social backwardness
is due to the influence of religion and tradition, and in the case
of most of them, their indebtedness to Chinese money-lenders.

6. To my mind, the British authorities are faced by a choice
between two evils. They cannot now afford to hand over power here
in the future to the Chinese, and they must therefore take such
steps as they can to prepare the Malays to assume it. Practical
action in this case is:-

(a) to continue the preferential treatment in the administration
given to the Malays;

(b) to use their new-found nationalism as a spur for acquiring
modem education, and
(c) to tackle the rural indebtedness which keeps the Malays, apart
from the Raja class, as non-political peasants tied to the land.

With the object of remedying the last of these evils, Dato Onn [1]
asked in 1948 for a grant of 10,000.000 from the United Kingdom
Government for Malay welfare and agricultural improvement. But the
High Commissioner of the Federation refused to endorse this,
unless the money were put towards the cost of the present military
campaign here. So nothing has been done.

7. It seems to me that the course of wise statesmanship now is to
improve the material and educational position of the Malays, as a
matter of deliberate choice working towards the day when a
transfer of power here can take place in conjunction with the
entry of Malaya into a sovereign Indonesian Federation. The
authorities in London have to decide soon whether this is a less
disagreeable alternative than allowing this country, at a time
when the United Kingdom may be engaged in a European war again,
coming under direct Chinese communist control, and bringing about
their own total exclusion from economic association with it. [2]

[matter omitted]

1 Chief Minister of Johore.

2 Burton annotated the letter: 'Mr McIntyre: pls have prepared a
paper putting this point of view-for possible Ministerial use or
basis of message to UK'.

[AA: 1838/2, 413/2/l/7]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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