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ASIAN ECONOMIC HISTORY
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 1

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 1 covers 1950-1954, a period that witnessed the beginning of the Cold War and conflict in Korea. Many Asian countries concerned were either recovering from Japanese occupation or trying to shake off their colonial past. The new communist regime in mainland China also put immense pressure on the whole area, as FO 371/84539 shows:

“The consolidation of Communism in China and the evident threat of its emergence as a growing force throughout South East Asia, underline the urgency of international efforts to stabilise moderate governments and create conditions of economic life and living standards under which the ideological attractions which communism exerts will lose their force…”

The events of the Second World War had left political, economic and social scars on the region. Wartime trade restrictions and shipping shortages had brought commerce, agriculture and industry to the point of collapse. The majority of nations faced high unemployment, a poor standard of living and a severe shortage of manpower. While tension between rebel communists and the established governments only intensified clashes, it had become clear that the majority of post-war.


South East and East Asia were in desperate need of economic rehabilitation.

A substantial amount of files offered in Part 1 provides study material connected to the importance of the Colombo Plan and its related conferences. The Plan became the first international, inter-governmental, mutual assistance programme for aid in Asia. The idea was first introduced at the Commonwealth Conference in Foreign Affairs in January 1950, where Ministers met in Colombo to discuss the problems and needs of countries in South and South East Asia.
They initiated the formation of a Consultative Committee to survey the needs of the region, to access resources available and to ultimately provide a framework within which an international co-operative effort could assist the countries with sustained economic development. Original members were Canada, Australia, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, UK, Malaya and British Borneo.

The first meeting of the Committee was held in Sydney in May 1950. With representatives of the Commonwealth countries in attendance, it was contemplated from the beginning that all countries in the area should be invited to participate in the Plan on equal terms. All agreed that they should draw up development programmes covering a six-year period, with other countries in the area invited to take similar action. Two core objectives of the Plan were the co-ordination of technical and financial aid.

As the principal policy-making and review body, the Committee held a follow-up London meeting in September 1950 where observers represented Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and Thailand. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos shortly afterwards became full members. Over the next three years, subsequent meetings were held in Colombo (February 1951), Karachi (March 1952) and New Delhi (October 1953).

Files CO 1022/139 and 140 look at the First and Second Annual reports respectively of the Consultative Committee. CO 1022/141-144 offers original Colonial Office correspondence and studies the individual draft country chapters for the Federation of Malaya, Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore.

Aside from the Colombo Plan meetings, this project also looks at other integral conferences, including those held at the residence of the Commissioner General in Singapore (known as ‘Mallaig’) and previously in Malaya (Bukit Serene). Gatherings of the Malaya/Borneo Governors held at Phoenix Park in Singapore are also featured.

These files provide a broad overview of the problems of the region and the policies proposed and adopted to drive economic growth. We also include a considerable body of material on the particular industries of each country.


Documents relating to the Federation of Malaya include agricultural development, rice production, the rubber industry and replanting schemes, meetings and papers of the Malaya Committee and the proposed development of mining in the Pahang and Kelantan regions.

Various aspects of the Hong Kong economy, one of Britain’s last colonial outposts, can also be researched. Files cover Crown leases, Education, the transfer of assets, commercial relations with China, the Tai Lam Chung water supply scheme, banking and Japanese activities in Hong Kong.

Files from class CO 953 look at the social and economic conditions in Singapore and provide economic estimates for 1950 and 1951.


FO 371/93033-93034 comprises the monthly economic bulletins from November 1950 to November 1951 submitted by the Commissioner General of Singapore. Document FO 371/93072 contains the first ‘Economic Bulletin’ published by the Government of Singapore in January 1951 and CO 1022/122 offers reports on the country’s labour situation between 1952 and 1953.

For South Korea, FO 371/84141 includes economic reports from Seoul in 1950 and FO 371/84142 assesses the war effect on the Korean economy. A special economic mission to Korea by the US presidency is reported in FO 371/99561; US financial aid to South Korea (FO 371/110597) and the Economic Reconstruction Agreement between Korea and the US can be found in FO 371/110637. Scholars will also be able to research the general financial situation in Korea (FO 371/105554-105555) and relations between South Korea and the UK government (FO 371/110598).

Academics will also be able to study the effects of oil prospecting and drilling in South and South East Asia using files from class CO 1029. These concern Brunei and relate to negotiations between the Shell group and the Brunei Government. The question of territorial waters in connection with oil resources is also featured.

Taiwan (Formosa) is documented throughout the material but file
FO 371/84525 in particular, assesses the international reaction to the US President’s declaration regarding the country’s position in 1950.

US Aid and investment in the region is well documented in Part 1 of this microfilm series as FO 371/110597 shows:


“The Korean Government have requested the American Authorities to enter into a reciprocal aviation agreement, which would permit them to operate a Korea trans-pacific air service. I understand that the American view is that such a service is hardly appropriate for a country in Korea’s economic and technical condition, but they may nevertheless find it difficult to refuse. The second Korean request relates to a debt of 21 million dollars, in Korean currency, owed to the US Government for surplus property left in Korea after the end of the military occupation. The Koreans have suggested that as the Americans are giving Korea a thousand million dollars in aid over the next few years, this debt is so relatively trifling that it might as well be cancelled.”

Part 1 also offers files on:

  • Development in the Commonwealth under the Colombo Plan (T 230/197-199).
  • Japan’s relations with South East Asia (CO 1022/218)
  • Visits of Sir Esler Dening to South East Asia and the Far East (FO 371/84519-84522)
  • Tripartite talks between the United States, United Kingdom and France on problems in
    South East Asia (FO 371/84517-84518)
  • Nationalist Chinese withdrawal from GATT (FO 371/105049) and IMF consultations with
    China (FO 371/99039)

The documents offered in Part 1 of this microfilm series invite scholars to study a group of Asian economies at a formative stage in their development and at a turbulent time in world history. It will enable them to explore questions such as: To what extent did Japan and China exert influence on the Tiger economies during this period? What was the primary focus of US aid to South East Asia? How important was the Colombo Plan? To what extent did corporations replace colonial powers? Did the international political circuit accurately research and report on the economic problems associated with South and South-East Asia? How did post-colonial expectations differ from nation to nation? Why did the economies of Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan progress at different rates?

Kate Spiers
March 2001

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