276. Telegram From the Embassy in Malaysia to the Department of State1

2132. Ref: Kuala Lumpur 2091.2

As stated last sentence reftel, President’s visit aroused Malaysian expectations of increased economic and military assistance from U.S. These expectations are inevitable concomitant of widespread Malaysian belief that visit signaled new era of more direct, benevolent U.S. interest in Malaysia.
Announcement of cutback in rate of stockpile rubber disposals in 1967 closely preceded President’s visit, which Malaysians knew was to be closely followed by Eugene Black mission.3 Enhanced by these presumed indications of heightened U.S. concern for Malaysia’s welfare, President’s visit created aura of goodwill unprecedented in nearly ten years of U.S.-Malaysian relations.
Relations between U.S. and Malaysia have always been friendly—but not intimate. Historically U.S. has regarded external guidance and assistance to Malaysia as primarily responsibility of Commonwealth. Consequently Malaysians felt proud, honored (and somewhat surprised) that President of U.S., country which had not previously paid special attention to Malaysia, included Kuala Lumpur on Far Eastern itinerary which otherwise embraced only U.S. allies. Conclusion reached by most Malaysians (and non-Malaysian diplomatic and journalistic observers also, I believe) was that U.S. now taking Malaysia into its circle of close friends in SEA.
Therefore it is not surprising that Malaysia’s immediate attention should be directed to prospective tangible benefits to be derived from “new” relationship with U.S. High Malaysian expectations clearly evident from (a) Prime Minister’s request to President that he moderate terms of credit for purchase of helicopters and (b) insistent requests from GOM officials for bilateral U.S. aid in private discussions with Black mission. (Newspaper articles and editorials welcomed Mr. Black as gift bearer following in President’s train.)
Malaysians also tend now see U.S. assuming more forthright responsibility for ultimate security Malaysia, especially so since President’s [Page 613] visit came at time when UK constrained reduce commitments this region. King’s speech welcoming President called U.S. protector of small nations. Malay language Berita Harian editorial October 31, commenting on President’s visit, said “no small nation can continue to exist without protection of big power.” Malaysian conviction along these lines strengthened by (a) thematic emphasis in President’s mission to SEA on common interest of U.S. and free nations of region in resisting Communist aggression and building strong, healthy societies, and (b) President’s statement in Kuala Lumpur that U.S. prepared assure small nations against ChiCom nuclear blackmail.
As foregoing paragraphs reveal, in wake of President’s visit U.S. finds itself in more direct relationship with Malaysia. I believe this is desirable development and that we should welcome more candid, cooperative basis on which our relations with Malaysia will rest henceforth. Malaysia has vital contribution to make to SEA development and cooperation, in which U.S. has vital interest and to support of which U.S. committed.
Initial tendency of Malaysians to view closer relationship with U.S. largely in terms of supposed opportunity get more U.S. aid presents us with problem in educative diplomacy, but I am hopeful that unrealistic expectations can be brought within reasonable bounds without undue irritation. I believe Mr. Black’s visit was very helpful in this regard. He made clear presentation of limited aid possibilities and set tone for continuing frank dialogue with Malaysians. I believe DepPriMin Razak and other top leaders understand (a) that Malaysia can benefit from indirect U.S. aid through SEA regional programs and must look primarily to that aid channel, and (b) that extensive concessional bilateral assistance from U.S. not in cards unless Malaysian financial situation worsens appreciably. (As noted Kuala Lumpur’s 2046,4 however, GOM clearly does expect concession on terms for helicopter purchase, and I have recommended we give consideration to moderating those terms.)
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL MALAYSIA–US. Secret; Limdis.
  2. Dated November 15. (Ibid., POL 7 US/JOHNSON)
  3. The report of President Johnson’s Special Adviser on Southeast Asian Development, Eugene Black, dated December 9, on his trip to Southeast Asia including Malaysia is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, SEA Development Program, Vol. II, 1966.
  4. Dated November 11. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12–5 MALAYSIA)