"An essential resource for researchers for its comprehensive treatment of Cold War Malaysian and Indonesian affairs."
Marc Jason Gilbert, Endowed Chair in World History, Hawai’i Pacific University
Section One: 1963-1966: Cold War in the Pacific, Trade Relations and the Post-Independence Period, 1963-1966
This essential collection of British Foreign Office files explores the history of South East Asia in the mid-twentieth century against the backdrop of the Cold War and the earlier Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).
Following the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, and the reaction to this in the wider region, Foreign Office Files for South East Asia, 1963-1980 showcases a fascinating period of history through the FO 371, DO 169 and DO 187 series. Covering key regions including Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, the material in this collection shines a light on key historical events for this period through memoranda, reports, correspondence, telegrams, speeches and maps.
This collection provides crucial insights into this period of history from a British perspective, with documents covering the release of the Cobbold Commission Report, led by the formation of the Federation of Malaysia and a rising fear of the threat of communism in a time of conflict and economic uncertainty. These documents provide comprehensive detail on the concerns of the British government as they attempted to re-establish their global role in the postcolonial period, with coverage of the casualties of Commonwealth countries during guerrilla warfare, financial records and correspondence detailing strategies and motive during a period of rapid transformation.
Foreign Office Files for South East Asia, 1963-1980 is split into two sections:
- Cold War in the Pacific, Trade Relations and the Post-Independence Period, 1963-1966
- Foundations of Economic Growth and Industrialisation, 1967-1980
The first module in this collection contains files from DO 169, DO 187 and FO 371. These files predominantly cover Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. The dates covered in these files range from 1954-1971, with the bulk of the documents relating to the period 1963-1966.
The files in Foreign Office Files for South East Asia have been carefully selected in collaboration with a specialist editorial board to cover South East Asia in the modern period. The content begins in the early 1960s, exploring the formation of Malaysia as an independent country, growing tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia and the shifting nature of the political landscape. The files monitor events in the region against the backdrop of the Cold War in the Pacific and the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960.
Foreign Office files contain:
• Newspaper clippings
• Meeting minutes
• Government reports
• Speech transcripts
Start exploring the documents using Archives Direct's advanced searching tools, described in the video below.
This collection reveals the challenges faced during this critical period of South East Asian history, with a rapidly shifting political landscape, conflict and economic uncertainty, moving towards industralisation and economic growth in the 1970s. Listed below are some key themes from the documents:
Formation of Malaysia – The Federation of Malaya had been granted independence from Britain in 1957, but there were still lingering colonial responsibilities which the British government hoped might be eradicated on the formation of Malaysia in September 1963. This change prompted tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia, and highly publicised conflicts ensued. President Sukarno opposed the formation of Malaysia and guerrilla warfare broke out in the region, causing trouble particularly in the border regions.
Attempted coup of President Sukarno – Sukarno was named the first President of Indonesia following its independence in 1945. Sukarno established a system entitled ‘Guided Democracy’ and was accused of supporting the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). There was growing concern from Britain at the rise of communist activity in Indonesia and increasing support for establishing a new leader. An attempted coup in September 1965 was put down by the army and General Suharto, head of military, gradually outmanoeuvred Sukarno and took over in March 1968.
The Communist threat – Anti-Communist sentiment was widespread in post-WWII Indonesia and tensions between the PKI, the military and Islamists grew. Following the coup of President Sukarno, a violent anti-Communist purge swiftly followed, with over half a million people killed.
Financial aid and foreign investments – With tensions surrounding independence, conflict and an unsettled political landscape, financial aid and foreign investment was necessary during this period before foundations for solid economic growth could be established. Documents in this collection show the costs and casualties incurred in the Western world as well as within South East Asia, with detailed expenses including loans to Commonwealth countries.
Where to start? A guide to documents on some key topics:
Signing of the Bangkok Agreement, 1966
"The Bangkok Agreement was signed in Djakarta and published in full in Kualar Lumpur today, 11 August." FO 371/187567
"Having regard to the expressed agreement of the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Federation of Malaya that the inclusion of North Borneo and Sarawak (together with other territories) in the proposed Federation of Malyasia is a desirable aim in the interests of the territories concerned - (a) to ascertain the views of the peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak on this question; and (b) in the light of their assessment of these views, to make recommendations." DO 169/303
• DO 169/271 GREATER MALAYSIA: Talks between Malaya and United Kingdom following Cobbold report
• DO 169/409 POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Malaysia/Indonesia: ceasefire
• DO 169/300 GREATER MALAYSIA: Anglo-Malayan Commission (Cobbold Commission): Finance
End of Malayan Emergency
"The Government of the Federation of Malaya are celebrating the formal end of the emergency there on 31st July. They have decided to make this occasion one of first-class political importance. Elaborate celebrations are planned and representatives have been invited from all countries associated with the campaign." DO 169/113
Tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia
“President Sukarno is reported to have said in his speech this afternoon, September 21: (a) That all trade relations with Malaysia and particularly with Singapore and Malaya were to be regarded as severed from 4pm today; (b) That Straits dollar was no longer to be legal currency in the Riso Archipelago; (c) that the national economy was to be geared for use as the primary weapon in the fight against Malaysia; (d) that the reason for these steps was Malayan action in breaking off diplomatic relations.” FO 371/169926
Independence and formation of Malaysia
“No longer possible to believe that Lee (Kuan Yew) would abscond at such a late stage in the game. This is borne out by his statement in the Assembly yesterday that we are going through with merger and Malaysia… nothing will deter us from this task.” DO 169/11
• DO 169/220 GREATER MALAYSIA: Timetable for formation of Malaysia
• DO 169/19 SINGAPORE: Internal political situation: Reactions to idea of a Greater Malaysia, 1961-1963
• DO 169/20 SINGAPORE: Internal political situation: Reactions to idea of a Greater Malaysia, 1963
• DO 169/25 Greater Malaysia: Grand Design, 1961
• DO 169/116 MALAYA: Critical comments by outgoing expatriate staff of Radio Malaya on policy of Malayanisation, 1960
• DO 169/118 MALAYA: Policy of Malayanisation of public services, 1961
• DO 169/286 GREATER MALAYSIA: Agreement on formation of new state, 1963
Attempted coups and guerrilla activity
"An Antara report datelined Djakarta, but professing to be based on reports from Kuching attacks the British for suppressions and arrests in Sarawak, claims successes for guerillas, and alleges that the British story that the guerilla attacks originated in Indonesia is intended to provide an excuse for British entry into Indonesian territory." FO 371/169912
• FO 371/180323 Indonesia: Internal Political Situation: Attempted Coup against Sukarno
• FO 371/180320 Indonesia: Internal Political Situation: Attempted Coup against Sukarno
• FO 371/180321 Indonesia: Internal Political Situation: Attempted Coup against Sukarno
• FO 371/180322 Indonesia: Internal Political Situation: Attempted Coup against Sukarno
Trade, commercial relations and economic growth
“When I saw de Block (State Secretary) the other day, he was at pains to assure me that the Dutch were not benefitting in commercial matters from the present Indonesian campaign against us and Malaysia.” FO 371/169920
• FO 371/169918 Indonesia: Commercial relations: People's Republic of China, 1962-1963
• FO 371/169919 Indonesia: Commercial relations: FRG, 1963
• FO 371/169920 Indonesia: Commercial relations: Netherlands, 1963
• FO 371/169923 Indonesia: Commercial relations: UK, 1963
• FO 371/169922 Indonesia: Commercial relations: US, 1963
• FO 371/169939 Indonesia: Claims against Indonesia by UK companies and individuals arising from riots and takeover of rubber plantations, 1963
Foreign investment and financial aid
“Three factors have been responsible for bringing the Indonesian economy to perhaps its lowest point since World War II: years of mismanagement; the impact of confrontation on certain exports and on prospects for foreign aid; and the effects of weather on the 1964 crop. The symptoms of economic malaise produced by the first factor- declining export earnings, falling industrial production, increasingly inefficient distribution, and continued inflation - have now been compounded by the other two. Without substantial additional outside assistance, the prospect is for continued economic stagnation and deterioration. Moreover, even if the domestic food supply improves, the combination of population growth, trade and industrial decline, and inflation creates the possibility that what has heretofore been seasonal malnutrition may become endemic starvation in certain areas." FO 371/175277
Political relations and state visits
"Despite the short notice at which it took place the preparations were more lavish than those made for any other previous State visit except that of Her Majesty The Queen in 1961. Triumphal arches, flags and large photographs of the two Presidents were put up along the principal routes." DO 169/73
• DO 169/84 Visit of Tunku Abdul Rahman, prime minister of Malaya, to India and Pakistan
• DO 169/86 Visit of Indonesia's minister of defence, General Nasution, to UK: exchange of information with Australia on outcome of visit
• DO 169/90 Visit of Mr Nehru, prime minister of India, to UK: brief on Malaya
• DO 169/108 Meeting between Tunku Abdul Rahman and Lord Home, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in Hong Kong, 1963
• DO 169/458 VISITS: Lee Kuan Yew: UK
• DO 169/101 Visit of Sir Garfield Barwick, Australian minister for external affairs, to UK for discussions on Malaysia 
"It is not possible for me to bind all future Governments in Singapore. But I give the assurance that it is not the intention of my government to introduce legislation to control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief; and that the present situation in all matters of religious liberty will continue." DO 169/322
• FO 371/187598 JOINT MALAYSIA/INDONESIA: Visit of Malaysian and Indonesian Christians to UK
• FO 371/169744 Religion in Malaysia
• FO 371/175312 Indonesia: Religion
• FO 371/180371 Indonesia: Religion: includes report about an alleged document retrieved from British Embassy in 1963 sacking