460. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the Office of Southeast Asian Affairs (Kocher) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)1


  • Singapore’s Analysis of British Policy in Malaya and Singapore

The attached despatch2 from Consul General Durbrow in Singapore merits your attention. I recommend that you read the passages we have underlined on pages 2 through 7.3

The despatch attempts to analyze British policy toward Singapore and Malaya and concludes that the dominant forces within the British Government at the present time are determined to “hold on” to Singapore and to move only slowly with regard to independence for the Federation. Incongruous as it seems, the same forces are opposed to any genuine counter-subversion program in Singapore, apparently preferring to rely on ultimate British armed strength to prevent a communist take-over. (As a partial explanation of the anomaly, Durbrow points out that Colonial officials there are not unaware that the greater the threat of subversion, the more justification for them to retain full control.)

At the time of the breakdown of the London talks on Singapore in May,4 we were disturbed that the British communiqué5 justified the British position in terms of Singapore’s strategic value rather than in terms of the threat of communist subversion. (This, despite our [Page 780] repeated efforts at high levels to persuade the British of the psychological disadvantages of such an explanation.) ….

. . . . . . .

Mr. Durbrow recommends that we redouble our efforts to induce the British to: (a) adopt effective methods to eliminate subversion and (b) as soon as practical thereafter grant as many concessions as possible on the path to self-government in order that both Singapore and the Federation will voluntarily remain within the Commonwealth and thus in the Free World. These are recommendations with which SEA agrees.

We are asking Embassy London to comment on the despatch and may be able thereafter to draw up more specific recommendations.

  1. Source: Department of State, SEA Files: Lot 58 D 726, 350 British Policies and Views. Secret. Drafted by Smith.
  2. Despatch 584, June 21, not found attached. (Ibid., Central Files, 746F.00/6–2156)
  3. The file copy of this despatch is not underlined as indicated.
  4. The talks on the question of independence for Singapore, which began in April in London between officials of the Colonial Office and a delegation from Singapore led by Chief Minister Marshall, broke down in May without agreement. The British were concerned to preserve their military base at Singapore and wanted to prevent Communist subversion of a dependent territory. The British Government felt that it could not agree to the establishment of a 6-year time table for the evolution of Singapore to self-government, and believed that it had to retain responsibility for the internal security of Singapore. (Memorandum of conversation, May 8; Department of State, Central Files, 746F.00/5–856) In telegram 1208 from Singapore, June 8, the Consulate General reported that Marshall, on his return to Singapore after the failure of the talks, alleged that independence for Singapore had become a “sacrifice on the alter of a brass God—SEATO.” (Ibid., 746F.00/6–856)
  5. On May 15, the Colonial Office issued a statement to explain the failure of the Singapore constitutional conference, which had ended without agreement that day. The statement emphasized Singapore’s strategic importance and U.K. responsibility to counter the growing threat of Communist subversion as the principal reasons for refusing the demand for independence for Singapore. (The Times (London) May 16, 1956)