332. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to Secretary of State Rusk 0


  • Malaysia

You mentioned at this morning’s staff meeting1 that you expected Lord Home to raise the subject of Malaysia and the current tripartite “Summit Meeting” in Manila.2 If he does not, I would recommend that you raise it on your initiative.

It has been announced that the Summit Meeting will terminate on August 4 (August 3 in Moscow),3 so a discussion with Lord Home will be to some extent ex post facto.4 Since British cooperation will be necessary either in implementing agreements reached at the Summit or in picking up the pieces if the meeting ends in failure, it would still be useful to make our position known clearly to the British.

The Problem:

The primary issue at Manila is that of determining the attitude of the Borneo Territories toward their inclusion in Malaysia. Secondary issues are the United Kingdom defense agreement with Malaya (to be extended to cover Malaysia) and the Philippine proposal for the phased creation of a loose Malay Confederation (Maphilindo) comprising Malaya, the Philippines and Indonesia. While reports from Manila are sketchy, the current positions of the principals appear to be as follows:

Indonesia is “pressing for a referendum in the Borneo Territories under United Nations auspices, which would probably take at least six [Page 722] weeks and would require a postponement in the formation of Malaysia from August 31 perhaps to late October. Indonesian motives are probably mixed: Having strongly resisted Malaysia for the past eight months, any delay in its formation could be a face-saving device to cover Indonesian acquiescence in the formation. A delay could also provide further time to devise other means of blocking its formation. There may also be a certain element of sincerity in the Indonesian position, a belief that the Borneo populace deserves an opportunity to express its views. (As adept double-thinkers, they could honestly hold this belief despite their performance in West Irian.) On the United Kingdom–Malaya defense agreement, the neutralist Indonesians are apparently pressing for its abandonment and the removal of British bases from the region. They seem to feel some attraction to Maphilindo, but it is subordinate to their immediate goals.

The Philippines are lining up with Indonesia on the referendum issue. Their primary objective is to preserve and further their claim to parts of North Borneo, a claim to which Macapagal personally is deeply committed. Although in somewhat of a middle position, they are particularly anxious to build up their ties with Indonesia and rather overconfident of their ability to keep the Indonesians in check. Indonesian antagonism to the United Kingdom-Malaya defense agreement puts them in a difficult spot in view of their own arrangements with us. They are strongly promoting the Maphilindo concept, both for internal reasons and as an over-riding solution to the Malaysia issue.

Malaya’s position up to the time of the Summit Meeting was that there could be no delay in the August 31 date, although the Tunku was willing to agree to a test of opinion in the Borneo Territories by the Secretary General prior to that date. In the course of the Meeting, however, the Tunku has apparently softened somewhat on the referendum question and has indicated at least a tentative willingness to consider a delay in the formation of Malaysia. There is virtually no chance the Malayans would countenance a change in the United Kingdom-Malaya defense agreement, which they regard as their primary security against Indonesia. Their attitude toward Maphilindo parallels that of Indonesia.

The Secretary General is willing to carry out a pre-August 31 verification of electoral opinion in the Borneo Territories if requested to do so in specific terms by all three countries. He has informed them that a referendum could also be held but that it would require the full agreement of all parties concerned (including the United Kingdom), as well as a mandate from the General Assembly.

The United Kingdom adamantly opposes any delay in the August 31 date, and has reportedly informed the Tunku that it could not accept a referendum in the Borneo Territories under any circumstances, since this would call into question the validity of the elections already held (which, [Page 723] while rather inconclusive in Sarawak, did indicate a probable majority in favor of Malaysia). The British apparently have been putting strong pressure on the Tunku to hold firm against any concessions on this point and even to withdraw concessions already tentatively offered. The United Kingdom attitude is that Sukarno is entirely committed to destroy Malaysia in one way or another, and that any concessions to him for the sake of reaching agreement at the Summit would be fruitless appeasement.5

Most Recent Summit Developments

When we learned of the apparent British decision to reject any postponement of the August 31 date regardless of the Tunku’s views, Ambassador Bruce saw Lord Home on August 2 to urge that the British show greater flexibility and permit the Tunku to make his own decisions.6 From this meeting and from earlier conversations with Foreign Office officials we gained the impression that (1) the British might go along with a slight delay if there were a clear and evident gain to be derived; (2) a United Nations verification of opinion in the Borneo Territories prior to the formation of Malaysia would be acceptable to the British; but (3) the British would not accept a pre-Malaysia plebiscite under any circumstances because they believed that, quite apart from the Malaysia issue itself, a plebiscite would violate a fundamental tenet of British decolonization policy.

On August 2, Macapagal urgently passed on to us a written message stating unequivocally that Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines were agreeable to a United Nations-conducted plebiscite in the Borneo Territories, which would require a delay in the formation of Malaysia. Malaya’s acceptance, however, was contingent upon United Kingdom agreement. Macapagal urged us to assist in overcoming British insistence on holding to the August 31 date, warning that this was the only way to keep the Summit Meeting from ending in failure.

United States Position:

By the time you see Lord Home in Moscow, the Summit Meeting will probably have terminated. While its outcome is still in doubt, we believe that there is a fairly good chance the participants will have reached an agreement embodying either postponement of Malaysia’s [Page 724] formation linked to a United Nations-administered referendum or the conditional formation of Malaysia on August 31 subject to confirmation by a post-independence referendum or plebiscite. We are informing the Secretary General of our efforts with the British.

Before seeing Lord Home, you may wish to check the most recent reports on the Summit Meeting and Malaysia. Depending on their content, you may wish to make the following points:

(If an agreement on Malaysia has been reached at the Summit): We urge the British to cooperate in carrying out the Summit agreement despite their reservations. In particular, we hope that they will permit the Tunku—who has the most of all at stake—to make whatever arrangements he believes necessary to proceed with the formation of Malaysia in a manner which will offer the new state at least a fair chance of viability after its formation.
(If the Summit Meeting fails to reach agreement): Prospects for bringing about the formation of Malaysia in a form which will offer it a real chance of viability are discouraging at best. Although the real opportunity appears to have been lost, we might still be able to salvage something if we leave it up to the regional powers to work out a solution. Our efforts from this point should be directed primarily at encouraging a further attempt to get them together for negotiations rather than injecting ourselves any deeper into the dispute.


Mr. Barnett of FE met with Foreign Office officials on July 29 for an extended discussion of Indonesia and our rationale for encouraging support of Indonesia’s stabilization program by the United Kingdom and other DAC countries. This conversation revealed a good deal of the current British thinking on Indonesia and, in response, Mr. Barnett summarized our contrary views. Since Lord Home may raise the same points, a memorandum prepared by Mr. Barnett on the basis of this conversation is attached at Tab. A.7

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 3 MALAYSIA. Confidential. Drafted by Ingraham and cleared in substance by Buffum and Thomas M. Judd, Officer in Charge of United Kingdom Affairs.
  2. The minutes are ibid., S/S Files: Lot 66 D 147, Secretary’s Staff Meetings.
  3. President Sukarno and Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman attended a “summit” in Manila called by President Macapagal of the Philippines. The meeting began on July 31 and concluded on August 5. At the end of the summit, the three leaders issued a message to U Thant asking him to ascertain the wishes of the people of North Borneo and Sarawak prior to the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia. For an extract of that message, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, pp. 820–821.
  4. Rusk was in Moscow August 3–7 for discussions and the signing of the Test Ban Treaty.
  5. A report of Rusk’s and Home’s discussion on August 4 in Moscow is in Secto 4 from Moscow, August 5. Home denied that the United Kingdom had forbidden Tunku Abdul Rahman to accept a postponement of the August 31 date for the establishment of the Federation, but he did warn against slippage. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 3 MALAYSIA)
  6. Hilsman talked to British Minister Denis Greenhill on the telephone at 2:35 p.m. on August 3. Hilsman told Greenhill he was “very angry” about Malaysia and thought there was more evidence that Sukarno did not want the territories. Hilsman was shocked that British launching of Malaysia threatened to wreck U.S. relations with Indonesia and the U.S. strategic stake built up there. Hilsman continued that it was one thing to support Malaysia, another to launch it in a way as to make confrontation with Indonesia inevitable. (Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Memoranda of Conversation)
  7. Reported in telegram 591 from London, August 2. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 3 MALAYSIA)
  8. Attached but not printed.