Headline from New York Times 16 August 1951
The Communist insurgency and successful counter-insurgency by British, Commonwealth and Malaysian troops became known as the “Malayan Emergency,” or “Malay Emergency.”
Had the British government used the word “war” then Lloyds of London and other property insurers would have been able to avoid paying out damage claims on policies written on tin mines, rubber plantations, and manufacturing plants destroyed or damaged in war. Insurance policies written for property exclude from recompense damages caused by war and “Acts of God.” These are defined as natural catastrophes over which no human agency could exert control or caused. Tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, tidal waves etc are “Acts of God” in the legal sense of the term.
Many policies also include exemptions from paying claims by civil unrest, riot and other events of mass violence. What constitutes such events area the kinds of things which keep lawyers busy.
“Don’t you think, sir, you should have an escort,” said a policeman to the British Adviser to the Sultan of Perak, then part of the British colony of Malaysia. A Communist insurgency had recently broken out and the Adviser had come to inspect a rubber plantation where several British estate managers had just been murdered by Communist thugs.
“Escort? Good God! Why on earth should I need an escort? I’ve got my walking stick and my wife.”
[Source: War of the Running Dogs: Malaya, 1948-1960 by Noel Barber, foreign correspondent of the London Daily Mail in the 1950s and 1960s who later became a bestselling novelist including several romance novvels the most famous of which was “A Farewell to France.”
The Communist insurgency in Malaya was heavily supported by the Communist Government of the People’s Republic of China. In spite of the immense difficulties involved in chasing down the Communist guerrillas and killing or capturing them in some of the most forbidding terrain in the world, this was the only successful anti-Communist campaign won by any of the Western powers in Asia that did not involved either outright defeat or a partition of the original nation.
After the defeat of the Japanese, the British re-occupied Malaysia which had been a British crown colony before World War Two, that is, a colony ruled by a Governor appointed by the Crown as advised by the sitting Prime Minister. The British wanted the opportunity to re-open tin mines and rubber plantations because of their desperate need of foreign currency.
The British were also determined to hand over a stable, democratic, free and independent nation to the native Malay officials and Parliament. It was a very long haul. This conflict began in 1948 and continued until the destruction of Communist forces in 1960.
Through the use of Malaysia soldiers and police, British and Commonwealth troops, and funds and supplies from the USA, the British succeeded and after they succeeded, they left. This was one of the few success stories of a country emerging intact from its days as a colony of the British Empire. Malaysia was and continues to be a multi-ethnic state because over the decades the British glued different pieces of territories into one colony. So it wasn’t as if one large piece of territory was just sitting there and they came along and snatched it.
The British Empire was built on trade and the suppression of ethnic violence. In many colonies the ethnic mix was such that these different groups had been warring with each other for endless amounts of time. The British usually imposed order by recruiting native police and military units under British command backed up by British troops and the Royal Navy. Hence, there was an unspoken social contract. The British ruled the colony and made money from it and in return provided order and stability so that native elites could also make money and maintain their traditional powers.
The British preferred to rule through native elites and these groups were often among their strongest supporters.
Malaysia was never a “settlement” colony such as Canada or Australia. At its peak the white population before World War Two might have number 10,000 people. The brutally hot climate of Malaysia was such that few white Europeans wanted to go there for any length of time. It was a trading colony exporting raw sap from rubber trees as well as an immense amount of tin from mines that had been opened up. Because of this, Malaya earned large amounts of foreign currency, especially dollars for the British and this became more and more important as the twentieth century went on.