453. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, February 14, 19561

SUBJECT

  • Communist Subversion in Singapore and the Federation of Malaya

PARTICIPANTS

  • Sir Hubert Graves, Minister, British Embassy
  • Mr. Archibald Campbell, Colonial Attaché, British Embassy
  • Mr. Kenneth T. Young, Jr., PSA
  • Mr. Eric Kocher, PSA
  • Mr. Rufus Z. Smith, PSA

Representatives from the British Embassy called at the Department’s invitation to discuss in somewhat more detail the problem of Communist subversion in Singapore and the Federation of Malaya, which was raised during the recent talks between the Secretary and British Foreign Secretary Lloyd.2

The conversation was begun with a reference to the Secretary’s mention of our concern over the problem of subversion in those areas, and it was explained that the Department had thought it might be helpful to the British Embassy to be informed of the general factors which had given rise to our concern. It was emphasized that we were deeply appreciative of the complex nature of the problems confronting the British authorities in Singapore and the Federation. Moreover, our full awareness that developments in those areas are a British responsibility made us diffident and reluctant even to raise the matter informally. We strongly felt a general inhibition to discuss problems which are so clearly a British responsibility and wanted to make it perfectly clear that our raising the question stemmed only [Page 763] from the hope that it might be helpful to the British to have a frank explanation of our thinking on the matter.

It was explained that the Department had been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from American businessmen, newspaper reporters, and Congressmen, many of whom had visited the area, indicating their deep concern over signs of extensive Communist subversion in the schools, particularly the Chinese Middle Schools, the labor unions, certain political parties, and other social institutions of Singapore. Our own information from that area has corroborated these reports of the disturbing advances made by the Communists. While we know that the British authorities generally share our concern, it is difficult for us to reply to questions as to what counter measures are being taken.

The example was given of a recent inquiry from a high official of an important American industrial concern, who said that his firm had been considering making new large investments in Singapore but was deterred by the disturbing accounts of Communist control, or near-control, of the schools and labor unions in Singapore.

With regard to the labor situation in Singapore we had had, in addition to the reports of our own representatives, the benefit of the views of George Weaver, a CIO official who had spent some time in Singapore last year studying the problems faced by non-Communist labor organizations there. In every case the reports that had come to us emphasized the gravity of the situation.

We realized that one of the principal difficulties was the appeal which the increased power and prestige of Communist China has for the racial and cultural pride of the Overseas Chinese and that this is an especially important factor in the case of Singapore, which is basically a Chinese city.

In view of the fact that we understood the British authorities were also disturbed over these same problems, it was the Department’s hope that the authorities in Malaya were planning to undertake a comprehensive counter-subversion program. We wanted to say as well that if it could be done without complicating the problem for the British, our representatives in Malaya and in London, as well as in the Department, would be willing at any time to sit down with their British colleagues and exchange views.

In response to a question from Sir Hubert it was explained that when we spoke of a comprehensive program we had in mind a broad program of countering Communist efforts by any means which might be available rather than just a propaganda program. The example was given of our conversations last summer with Sir Sydney Caine of the University of Malaya when we had expressed the hope that the University’s role might be considerably strengthened and broadened to provide, among other things, a means of satisfying atleast [Page 764] in part the demand for facilities for higher education for the Chinese.

. . . . . . .

In addition to inquiries and reports from our own people, it was pointed out, we had noted a significant increase in the degree of interest and concern felt by other countries with regard to developments in Singapore. For example, inquiries had reached us from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and India. The Indonesians appeared to us to be particularly disturbed over the trend of events in Singapore.

At the close of the conversation the British representatives were told that we heartily shared their satisfaction over the outcome of the recent negotiations in London with regard to the program for transition to self-government for the Federation of Malaya. In this connection, they were given advance copies of a release which the Department expected to give to the press.3 It was explained that the statement had been drafted in Kuala Lumpur in response to urgings from the press that the U.S. make a formal statement of its attitude toward the recent self-government talks. The statement, it was noted, had been cleared with the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office in London and was to be released in Washington later in the week.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 746F.001/2–1456. Secret. Drafted by Smith.
  2. See Document 451.
  3. See supra.
  4. The substance of this conversation was sent to London in telegram 4634, February 16, with instructions to the Embassy to delay initiating talks with the British Government in the hope that the British would broach the issue themselves. In the event of a British approach, the Embassy was authorized to proceed along the lines laid out in CA–5294, Document 449, with minor modifications outlined in telegram 4633 to London, February 16. (Department of State, Central Files, 797.00/2–1656)