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Rise and fall of communism in Malaya


1930: Formation of Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

1930s: CPM inspires labour unrest. In March 1937, miners declare “independence” and take over the Batu Arang coal mine in Selangor for 24 hours.

December 1941: World War II reaches Malaya. The British accept the CPM’s offer to cooperate to fight the Japanese invaders. The CPM forms the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA).

Aug 16, 1945: The Japanese surrender. In the five weeks before the British resume control of Malaya, the MPAJA emerges as the de facto authority in the country.

December 1945: MPAJA is disbanded after the CPM is directed by its secretary-general, Lai Tek (who was also a double agent for the British), to accept the return of British colonial rule and adopt a moderate “open and legal” struggle for its ideological goals.

Jan 6, 1946: The British give various CPM leaders, including Chin Peng, medals for fighting the Japanese.

1945–1948: The CPM infiltrates some trade unions and help organise strikes to demand better pay and working conditions. The British respond by tightening laws.

March 1947: Lai Tek absconds with several million straits dollars of CPM funds. Chin Peng, 26, is appointed CPM secretary-general.

March 1948: The CPM’s Fourth Plenum (meeting) formally abandons Lai Tek’s “moderate strategy” in favour of a “people’s revolutionary war”.

June 16, 1948: Three European planters are killed in Sungai Siput, Perak. A State of Emergency is declared within nearby parts of Perak, spreading to the whole country by June 23. Emergency regulations include the mandatory carrying of identity cards and the death penalty for unlicensed possession of guns.

June–December 1948: Large scale CPM attacks in Kulai (Johor), Jerantut (Pahang) and Batu Arang fail to establish Mao Zedong-style “liberated areas”.

April 1949: Communist fi ghters retreat into deep jungle camps for retraining. By year’s end, there are increased guerrilla attacks on rubber estates, tin mines, transportation routes and government offi cials.

December 1949: A Scots Guards patrol shoots dead 25 Chinese farmers in Batang Kali, Selangor. It was hailed as “the biggest success” of the Emergency but in later years was described as a massacre of innocents.

Feb 23, 1950: Twenty-fi ve people die defending the police station in Bukit Kepong, Johor, against the communists.

March 22, 1950: Lt Gen Sir Harold Briggs becomes the Director of Operations in Malaya. He formulates the Briggs Plan to (forcibly) resettle 500,000 Chinese farmers into “new villages” surrounded by barbed wire and government soldiers to deny the communists food and other support.

September 1950: As part of the government’s anti-communist strategy to improve the socio- economic status of rural people, the Rural and Industrial Development Authority (Rida) is set up. Later, it becomes Majlis Amanah Rakyat, or Mara.

1951: Communist strength reaches over 7,000 fi ghters from about 2,300 fi ghters in 1948.

June 1951: Briggs launches Operation Starvation. Movement of food throughout the country is controlled to force the communists out of the jungle to forage for food, thus allowing them to be ambushed and killed.

Oct 6, 1951: British High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney is ambushed and killed by the communists while en route to Fraser’s Hill.

Feb 7, 1952: General Sir Gerald Templer becomes the new High Commissioner and Director of Operations. All intelligence and spying operations are integrated into the Special Branch of the police.

March–April 1952: A 22-hour curfew is imposed on Tanjung Malim, Perak, after a communist attack. Such collective punishments induce people to inform on the communists.

1952: Discouraged by waning public support, a result of the Briggs plan, the CPM stops activities that may cause loss of life or inconvenience to the public, such as attacks on trains.

May 1, 1952: The Government offers $250,000 for the capture of Chin Peng.

September 1952: Citizenship given to all, regardless of race, who are born in Malaya; this removed one of the reasons for the war waged by the CPM.

1953: The Briggs Plan and military attacks bite. Chin Peng and his headquarters staff retreat from the jungles near Bentong, Pahang, via Cameron Highlands, to Betong in South Thailand.

1953: As part of Templer’s “winning hearts and minds” strategy, local elections are held for town and city councils. Areas free from communists are declared “white areas” and various restrictions there are lifted.

June 1954: Templer leaves. The tide has turned against the communists. In the latter half of the 1950s, the killing, capture and betrayal of some communist leaders lead to even more “white areas”.

July 31, 1955: The Alliance Party scores a huge victory in the country’s fi rst federal election and Tunku Abdul Rahman becomes Chief Minister. Its manifesto includes granting amnesty to the communists to reduce the loss of lives.

Sept 1955: Chin Peng offers to negotiate with Tunku.

Dec 28-29, 1955: The talks in Baling, Kedah, are deadlocked. Chin Peng asks that the CPM be legalised and allowed to contest elections but Tunku cannot agree and wants the CPM to surrender.

Aug 31, 1957: Independence for Malaya – and the communists lose one reason for their “war of colonial liberation”.

Sept 9, 1957: Merdeka Amnesty announced. Up to 500 communist fi ghters surrender in the next 12 months.

July 31, 1960: The Malayan Government declares the end of the State of Emergency.

1967-1989: Despite severe setbacks, Chin Peng begins the “Communist Insurgency War”, unoffi cially known as the second Emergency, urged on by China’s Communist Party and the growing success of communist insurgencies in the region.

1969: Infi ghting among CPM members living in Thailand lead to major splits.

June 7, 1974: Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim is assassinated on Chin Peng’s orders – a last gasp effort that does nothing to help the CPM’s cause.

Dec 2, 1989: The Malaysian Government and the CPM sign the Peace Accord in Hatyai, Thailand, and the CPM lays down its arms.

Sources: ‘The Malayan Emergency Revisited: 1948–1960’ by Lt Col (R) Mohd Azzam and Wikipedia.

Related Stories: History in the making From letter to treaty He left it too late Inside the CPM hideout At peace in their village Red star over Malaya Disputed legacy

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