Viewpoint: Sarawak’s Role In The Making Of Malaysia - By Professor Michael Leigh

A TREASURE trove of the most highly classified United Kingdom records, known as “the migrated archives”, has been progressively opened to the public since April 2012.

These records document the turbulent times, the heated discussions and the set of compromises that resulted in the formation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.

From these documents, it is clear that the creation of Malaysia was no foregone conclusion, and whether Sarawak would form the new nation was uncertain right up to the last minute.

Malaysian history is full of excitement and of the unexpected.

State Flag of Sarawak
As a student seeking to understand the politics of a multi-ethnic state in transition, I first arrived in Sarawak on M.V. Bruas, in December 1962. I have maintained a close interest in Malaysia over the past 52 years, publishing various academic works along the way.

With the support of the Tun Jugah Foundation and Pustaka Negeri Sarawak, I am re-examining the evidence in the light of this newly-released documentation.

Based on top-level UK and United States documents, and interviews with key players, many new questions can be asked. These include:

WHY was Malaysia formed?

DID the Malayan prime minister really suggest returning Sarawak to Brunei?

WHY was the 1962 Brunei revolt the key to forming Malaysia?

WAS it true that the Malayan and British governments feared that US president John F. Kennedy might broker a deal to settle “the Malaysia issue”, a deal that satisfied their Philippine and Indonesian allies, at Malayan expense?

After Indonesian paratroops landed in Johor, were the British so scared of “Ganyang Malaysia” that they considered making a tactical nuclear strike against a Sumatran airbase?

Beginning tomorrow, the New Straits Times will exclusively publish a series of five articles on Sarawak and the formation of Malaysia.

The first article deals with the concept of Malaysia and focuses upon the drivers for its formation, capitalising upon the May 1961 speech given by Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The second article is about Sarawak’s response to the plan for a “Greater Malaysia”, comprising Malaya, Singapore, Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo.

The government-sponsored Cobbold Commission of enquiry heard representations from across the state. The Malayan and British members had divergent views on the terms and conditions of federation, differences that had to be papered over before the report was made public.

The third article is the story of the Brunei Revolt of December 1962, and the start of Indonesian armed confrontation in April 1963. The extensive use of emergency powers and wide publicity given to these new threats had a decisive impact on public opinion in Sarawak.

The fourth article focuses on the vigorous contestation over the looming reality of federation, over just what would be the political terms of engagement. That debate went right up to the last moment.

The final article looks at the first two highly turbulent years of Malaysia.

Both London and Kuala Lumpur feared that Indonesian confrontation could succeed, and were most concerned that the US might intervene to broker an “unacceptable” solution to the Malaysia issue.

About the Author: Professor Michael Leigh was appointed Professor of Contemporary Asia and Director of the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne (2004-6) and is now director of the Aceh Research Training Institute (2007-9). He is the immediate Past-President of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. His previous positions include director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at University Malaysia Sarawak 1997-2003, head of the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Sydney 1989-1991 and Director of the International College Penang 1992-6. He has published articles and monographs on elections in Malaysia and Indonesia. His most recent publication is Transformations in Eastern Malaysia University of New England Asia Centre, 2007.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented

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