454. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs (Young) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)1


  • Political Situation in Singapore
[Page 765]


In accordance with FE’s approval of February 2, I took up on February 14 the question of subversion in Singapore and Malaya with Sir Hubert Graves and Mr. Campbell, Colonial Attaché, of the British Embassy here. I outlined the background and reasons for our concern over the alarming extent of subversion in Singapore. I did not go into any U.S. suggestions on how the British should deal with this threat.

The British reaction was friendly, interested, but reserved. I made it clear we all felt inhibited about raising this question and did not wish to appear presumptuous or to be interfering in British affairs. I did stress our concern over the effect on the free world position in Asia if a real crisis overwhelmed Singapore and Malaya. In the light of this concern I said the U.S. Government would always stand ready to discuss with the U.K. any suggestions that the U.S. or U.K. might have for developing a vigorous, comprehensive counter-subversion program. We did not go into details with the British although they did question us as to what specific ideas we might have. We left the next move up to them. A memorandum of conversation is being prepared.2

We in PSA are greatly relieved that we have finally made this approach to the British, but we are troubled by a discouraging sense that it all may be too late. My personal opinion is that Singapore is probably already lost and little can be done to save it from Communist domination in the near future. If this should occur the effect will, of course, be explosive in Malaya and all over Southeast Asia. I do not wish to be an alarmist but I think we had better face up to realities before we are confronted with even more bitter alternatives.

In addition to the full accounts we have had from the field regarding the gravity of the situation, we have just received a despatch from Durbrow in Singapore describing a significant new development: the British have approached us informally to ascertain what our reaction would be if they were to revoke the Constitution in Singapore and return to direct rule.3 Sir Hubert put the same question to me.

We hope that if it comes to this the British will be able to pull it off. However, there might be critical consequences if a division or two of British and Commonwealth troops try to hold Singapore in a showdown when the bulk of the Chinese community is hostile and Communist leadership resorts to violence to obtain its objectives. The key is the Chinese population.

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The reaction in Asia would be violent, and political costs would be great. On the other hand, a showdown of force in Singapore might result in the disintegration of the effectiveness of the Communist movement.

While the outlook is bleak, there are several courses of action we think should be taken to prevent, or at least to delay, complete Communist subversion of Singapore and to minimize the adverse effects which would result if a Communist take-over should in fact occur.

I believe we should, through Durbrow, make a preliminary reply to the British. In summary, we think Durbrow should reply to the British by saying that we would support them provided (1) all other feasible alternatives were exhausted; (2) they give immediate attention to developing a vigorous comprehensive program of countersubversion to be undertaken and continued whether or not they revoke the Constitution; and (3) they enlist the support of friendly Asian nations in order to minimize the adverse psychological effects which a return to British rule would have throughout Asia.


Attached for your approval is a memorandum to the Secretary briefly outlining the problem and transmitting to him a draft telegram to Durbrow in Singapore. I recommend that you approve the memorandum and the telegram for circulation for appropriate clearances and submission to the Secretary upon his return next week.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 746F.00/2–1756. Secret. Also addressed to Sebald.
  2. Supra.
  3. Despatch 358 from Singapore, February 6. (Department of State, Central Files, 746F.00/2–656)
  4. Initialed by Robertson, indicating his approval. The memorandum is not attached to the source text and there is no evidence in Department of State files that such a memorandum was sent to the Secretary. The Secretary did, however, approve the transmission of the draft telegram; see infra.