ASIAN ECONOMIC HISTORY
Series Two: Economic Development in Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia,
Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, 1950-1980
(Public Record Office files from the Foreign Office, Colonial Office,
Treasury, Dominions Office, Board of Trade and Cabinet Committees)
Part 2: Files for 1955-1958
This microfilm project focuses on the dramatic growth achieved in Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan between the years 1950-1980. This collection of Public Record Office material includes Cabinet papers, Colonial, Dominions and Foreign Office files as well as Treasury documents. This series will form a prime source for social, political and economic historians studying economic development in South and South East Asia.
Part 2 covers the years 1955-1958, a period that saw the Cold War crisis deepen and the aftermath of conflict in Korea. The consolidation of the communist regime continued in China, and this had repercussions for the economy of South East Asia. Ensuring the political stability of the region became a prime concern for international governments and foreign investors. Undermining the ideological appeal of communism depended on the creation of strong economies and good living standards in the moderate nations. Material selected from a variety of PRO classes illustrates how this financial and industrial development was achieved.
Whilst Britain's specific colonial interest was in Hong Kong and Malaysia (until August 1957) the economic strength of the whole region was vital to the welfare of British business interests there. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, had a crucial role to play in generating a good economic climate in South East Asia. Committees such as the Working Party on Development in South and South East Asia were focussed on providing support that would facilitate economic growth in the area. The Cabinet Office acted as Secretariat for these bodies and the files from CAB 21 and CAB 134 detail the key meetings and activities of these groups.
The Colombo Plan and its related conferences are detailed in files taken from the records of both the Commonwealth Office and the Dominions Office, (CO 1030 and DO 35). The plan became the first international, inter-governmental, mutual assistance programme for aid in Asia. First introduced at the Commonwealth Conference at Colombo in January 1950, the plan initiated the formation of a framework within which economic growth could occur. The papers offered in this collection document the progress made by the Plan in the mid-1950s, including relevant chapters from the annual reports of the Consultative Committee.
Additional files from the records of the Commonwealth Office (CO 1029) highlight how political issues became involved in the effort to achieve economic success. In the case of Borneo, it became necessary to alter the country's border in order to benefit from the natural resources in the area;
"The purpose of the attached orders is to extend the boundaries of North Borneo and Sarawak so as to include the continental shelf adjacent to their territorial waters. This is necessary in order that the government of these territories may exercise control over the exploitation of the resources of the sea bed and in particular the submarine drilling for oil in the shallow waters beyond the three mile limit."
CO 1029/129 (Reel 8)
A significant number of files from the records of the Dominions Office deal with the economic progress of Malaya (Malaysia). Britain's Commonwealth ties with the country gave her a unique perspective on the developments in finance and industry that were taking place. Valuable information can be found on the establishment of the Central Bank of Malaya, financial assistance from the UK, and the growth of the rubber industry. The following extract shows that the creation of a strong Malayan economy was an important political issue in the early days of independence from Britain;
"In its election manifesto the Alliance Party declared its intention of assisting the economic development of the country by:
(a) encouraging investment by local capital
(b) attracting overseas capital
(c) amending the income tax law with a view to encouraging new industries
(d) facilitating the development of industrial sites for new industries
(e) providing efficient and reliable transport by road, rail and air
(f) giving full employment to labour, including training facilities"
DO 35/9863 (Reel 17)
Files selected from PRO class FO 371 provide a political and diplomatic perspective on the economic development of South East Asia. Particular attention is focussed on the areas directly under the threat of communism, Formosa (Taiwan) and South Korea. With foreign investors increasingly retreating from these areas, financial assistance from the UK and US became even more important. The assessment of progress in Formosa is a significant aspect of the documents from the Foreign Office;
"The vital need now is private investment. This has not been large and with the exception of investments
by a very small number of large American corporations, there has been little influx of private foreign capital. The prospect is not encouraging. The response by overseas Chinese has been disappointing so far, despite the passing, in 1954, of new and more favourable laws governing investments by foreign nationals and overseas Chinese. The major deterrents are not legal. They are heavy taxation, the prominent position of Government in industry and, above all, the uncertain political and military situation, affecting internal budgeting and external investment alike."
FO 371/127489 (Reel 22)
Included in the selection from the Foreign Office records are several Annual Reviews for South East Asian countries. These provide insights into the main events of the past year from the point of view of British diplomats within the country. In the context of this microfilm project, they illustrate how social and political factors can affect the progress of a country's economy. For example, the Annual Review for Korea in 1957 reflected on the economic repercussions of the Korean War;
"Economically, no country could be less viable than the Korea of 1957. Exports were scarcely one-sixteenth of imports, and the burden on US aid was to the order of US $303m. Meanwhile there was little disposition among the moneyed to turn their capital away from speculation into production or useful distribution.
The foreign investor continued - as he must do for a long time to come - to be deterred by the political uncertainties. The International Bank, whose representative visited Seoul in the summer, did not regard the conditions here as sufficiently stable to justify a loan."
FO 371/133660 (Reel 23)
Part 2 ends with files from classes LAB, POWE, PREM and T, dealing with the industrial development that contributed to the economic growth in South East Asia. Included are reports on the oil industry in Brunei and the rubber and metal industries in Malaya. Together, this microfilm collection invites scholars to study a group of Asian economies as they look for growth at a turbulent time in world history. It will enable them to explore questions such as: To what extent did the consolidation of Communist rule in China affect economic growth of neighbouring nations? How important was the Colombo Plan in developing the economies of South East Asia? Why did the speed of economic progress differ in Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan?