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Series Two: Economic Development in Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, 1950-1980

Part 1: Files for 1950-1954

Part 2: Files for 1955-1958

Part 3: Files for 1959-1962
Part 4: Files for 1963-1966

Publisher's Note - Part 3

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 material from The National Archives (PRO) 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 3 covers the years 1959-1962, a period that saw massive US aid to Taiwan (Formosa), the slow recovery in South Korea following the ravages of war, moves to form “Greater Malaysia” and consolidate on progress made after the Federation of Malaya achieved full independence in 1957, as well as significant economic development in the two great trading entrepôts of Singapore and Hong Kong.

Despite moves to sever colonial ties, 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 Committee on Future Development in South East Asia, the Committee on Greater Malaysia, the Working Party on the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) and the Committee on 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, including the Eden Hall Conferences. Many of the Foreign Office files cover meetings of the ECAFE which aimed to foster reconstruction and development in Asia and in the Pacific region under the auspices of the United Nations. There are files on the Highway, Railway, Iron and Steel, as well as the Industry and Natural Resources Sub-Committees.

Continued hard work under 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 under the Plan by 1962 and include files on the meetings of the Consultative Committee. DO 35/8783 examines the future of the Colombo Plan.

CO files on Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore look at economic and financial aid, industry and future development plans. DO 35/8864 contains a study of future policy, 1960-1970, in South and South East Asia and the Far East. DO 169 files look at proposals for a wider Malayan Union with a review of Malayan attitudes on this subject and the likely impact on trade and economic conditions.

At the end of 1959 the first President of the Republic of Singapore, Mr Yusof bin Ishak, was elected for a four year term. In 1961, when the Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, proposed the formation of Malaysia to include the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo, the Singapore Government gave its support. This move was confirmed in Singapore by a referendum the following year.

The Economic Development Board established in Singapore in 1961 was the lead government agency responsible for the formulation and implementation of economic and industrial development strategies, especially for the manufacturing, re-export and knowledge-driven industries. Dependence on foreign multi-national capital investment remained high. As Singapore prepared for full independence there was close liaison with Britain and America. CO 937/512 covers the four year development plan drawn up for Singapore in 1960. CO 852/1810 looks at factory development. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) mission to Malaya and Singapore is covered in CO 1022/485 and 486. Various files in CO 1030 provide good documentary evidence on the role of the Singapore government.

Various files reveal how economic and political disputes hampered economic progress in Malaysia in the early 1960s. There were definite tensions between the mostly Chinese state leaders of Singapore and the Malay federal government. DO 35/9887 brings together a cluster of documents on Soviet economic aid to Singapore.

Concerning Malaya there are significant documents on the Rubber Growers’ Association, employer organisation, the protection of British commercial interests, the establishment of the stock exchange, the expansion of UK activities in the region, the setting up of a new oil refinery, road development, the role of the National Rural Development Council, as well as on significant Malayan Government personalities and their involvement with the UK High Commissioner on economic and financial work.

The main exports from Hong Kong continued to be largely labour intensive, manufactured products aimed at markets in America, Japan, China, Britain and Europe. This was slowly changing as Hong Kong was further integrated into the Chinese hinterland economy, but the cheap Chinese labour force was a crucial factor. CO 852/1707 looks at trade between Hong Kong and Europe and CO 852/2152 deals with the Organisation for Asian Economic Co-operation. CO 1030/1177 covers the Federation of Industries in Hong Kong. Other files examine the employment situation, the fishing industry, steel rolling mills and overall trade patterns.

We include Annual Review files and Foreign Office assessments on the economy and overseas trade of Taiwan. There is a strong emphasis on US economic and military aid. This amounted to US$1,223 million between 1958 and 1962. About 37% of the economic aid was directed towards the country’s infrastructure, 26% was allocated on Human Resources Development, Agriculture received about 21% and Industry benefited from about 15% of this money. This aid provided the backbone for rapid industrialisation and great economic progress in the 1960s.

The influence of Communist China upon the economies of Hong Kong and Taiwan is analysed in the British documents included in this collection. British policy towards China was not always in full agreement with the American viewpoint.

Regarding South Korea there are economic reports and Foreign Office files on commercial relations, the activities of Shell Oil in Korea, assessments of the influence of China and the Soviet Union in the region, and requests through ECAFE by the Heavy Industry Corporation for the UK to assist with training of personnel. Massive amounts of US aid were a key feature of this period. The British Foreign Office kept a relatively close eye on developments as Annual Review files indicate.

For Brunei the development of oil, petroleum and natural gas fields was all important. It remained a small British protectorate with a very wealthy economy. CO 1030/1348 deals with investment policy in Brunei.

Part 3 ends with a number of files from LAB, OD, POWE and Treasury classes. These cover the labour situation in Singapore and South East Asia, balance of payments estimates for Hong Kong, material on oil industry revenues for Brunei and Singapore, the textile industry in Hong Kong and discussions on the textile trade between North America and Hong Kong, Treasury views on the Singapore development plan, 1960-1964, IBRD loans to Singapore and UK negotiations with the EEC to obtain safeguards for Hong Kong’s export trade.

Taken together the body of documents in this microfilm collection invites scholars to study a group of Asian economies as they strived 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 after 1960? Why did the speed of economic progress differ in Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan? By the 1960s did Britain have any significant role to play in the region? How important was the impact of Cold War politics? Were there significant racial issues impeding economic development? How fundamental was the amount of US aid poured into the region and what were the repercussions in the longer term of such investment?




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