268. Telegram From the Embassy in Malaysia to the Department of State 1

232. Embtel 220.2

Post mortem separation Singapore from Malaysia still in progress but attention gradually being shifted problem of accommodation new situation. Clear that virtually nobody pleased with event with likely exception Communist-infiltrated socialist front and possible exception far right Malay chauvinist PMIP. However, general acceptance action fait accompli. Separation not worked out in detail and confusion still reigns.
Tunku’s position: Now seems clear separation rammed through Parliament at insistence of Tunku who told alliance MP’s in meeting preceding Parliament opening that he would not discuss matter and [Page 590]would resign govt if he did not receive two-thirds vote necessary to carry constitutional amendment legalizing separation. This action seriously weakened if not destroyed Tunku’s image as father figure above faction and unifier of nation. At same time it demonstrated his power supreme in alliance and although by own admission he was too weak prevent likely racial clash resulting from pressure from UMNO extremists reacting violently to PAP agitation, he still in charge if not free agent. Only alliance member with courage defy Tunku was UMNO Secy Gen Ja’afar Albar who forced to resign as result. Much of senior civil service disgruntled over separation to point of openly making bitter and indiscreet remarks.
Concern to rebuild Tunku image as leader of all nation of great importance not only to alliance but also to at least some portions of opposition. Lim Cheong Eu, head of opposition UDP, in talks with EmbOff seemed more concerned this necessity than anything else.
Malay extremists in UMNO bitter over separation and younger members would probably be willing to leave party if Albar would lead revolt. Albar told EmbOff Tunku leader of Malaysia and that he had written all UMNO branches urging them support Tunku. He also said unity UMNO essential to survival of nation and he would not be man to destroy country, even though he had power to do so. Albar ambitious and probably unscrupulous. We are skeptical these assurances of devotion. At moment it appears he not prepared try to take on present leadership UMNO in open fight but will probably continue attempt improve his position through behind scenes manipulations.
There are more difficulties in MCA. MCA youth, already worked up over issue of Chinese as official language, reliably reported to be enraged at party leadership for agreeing to ejection by Malay leaders of one and half million Chinese from country to detriment of future bargaining power of Chinese vis-à-vis Malays. Series of meetings top MCA leadership have considered this problem. Tan Siew Sin explaining separation to youth group August 15 took line separation tragedy that could not be avoided, put blame on Lee, insisted Singapore had fully agreed to break and pleaded for support of rank and file. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] has reported Tan has succeeded in putting down incipient rebellion in MCA.
PAP-alliance relations: PAP has made it clear it will continue drive for power on mainland using Malaysian Malaysia slogan as before. Devan Nair, only PAP MP with mainland constituency, taking over leadership peninsular PAP. Malaysian Solidarity Convention, basically PAP creation, at meeting Penang Aug 15–17, inter alia resolved to work for reunification Singapore Malaysia.
Capacity of PAP build influence on peninsula probably somewhat lessened as result break, assuming Lee Kuan Yew honors pledge [Page 591]not interfere in internal affairs Malaysia to extent of refraining from public polemics. Extremely doubtful Nair free agent but even with Singapore PAP planning strategy, loss of dramatic figure of Lee Kuan Yew will probably reduce appeal of PAP to non-Malays on peninsula. Nair intelligent and articulate but not in class with Lee as public figure. Attempts by him to build power base on labor movements, as PAP did in Singapore, likely to fail in face opposition of peninsula union leaders who have no love for Nair nor NTUC. As Indian, Nair will be handicapped in appeal to Chinese who must form bulk of any successful opposition party. Partners in MSC have own fiefs and interests and will not give disinterested loyalty to PAP. Lim Cheon Eu appears to have more regard for Tunku than for Lee. Seenivasagam brothers (PPP) have own machine and have already diverged from PAP line on issues appealing to Chinese chauvinism. Despite these considerations, possible absence Lee’s charisma etc., PAP likely to benefit from belief of part of MCA membership and others that separation victory for ultras who constantly strengthening position in alliance. Chinese whose support MCA lukewarm may seek new outlet and PAP Malaya likely pick up some strength this quarter.
Economic development: In theory loss of Singapore funds and expertise serious setback to development program Borneo. In fact effect may be minor. Singapore commitment to M150 million loan conditional on acceptance Singapore labor in Borneo. In fact no funds forthcoming past two years and no indication they would have been made available foreseeable future. Colombo Plan adviser GOM Ministry of National Development told EmbOff Singapore had given no cooperation in development and would not even inform GOM of what they doing in Singapore. Source probably biased but nevertheless true that there was little or no cooperation between two govts on development.
Trade relations: Despite animosity generated by GOS imposition tariffs and quotas on Malaysian manufactured goods which in first instance amounted to embargo while issuance of licenses awaited, both sides appear recognize they need each other economically. “Common market” still possibility. Economic interdependence will be strong inducement bring about necessary economic cooperation. Local businessmen feel that if politicians let them alone they can work out satisfactory trade relations, and with exception of manufacturers directly affected by quota measures businessmen more optimistic than after first shock.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 16 SINGAPORE. Secret. Repeated to Canberra, Wellington, Djakarta, Kuching, Hong Kong, London, Singapore, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. In telegram 220 from Kuala Lumpur, August 21, the Embassy submitted “thoughts” for use in potential discussions with the British about the separation of Singapore and Malaysia. According to the Embassy, while the separation was a “setback for US–UK interests,” it was a “cause for disappointment not despair.” (Ibid., POL MALAYSIA–SINGAPORE)