70 years ago the UK stepped up a brutal colonial intervention in Malaya, presenting it as a war against Chinese communism. British forces herded hundreds of thousands of people into fortified camps, heavily bombed rural areas and resorted to extensive propaganda to win the conflict.
The so-called “emergency” in Malaya – now Malaysia – between 1948 and 1960 was a counter-insurgency campaign waged by Britain against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA).
The MNLA sought independence from the British empire and to protect the interests of the Chinese community in the territory. Largely the creation of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), the MNLA’s members were mainly Chinese.
But although the war in southeast Asia has long been presented in most British analyses as a struggle against communism during the cold war, the MNLA received very little support from Soviet or Chinese communists.
Rather, the major concern for British governments was protecting their commercial interests in the colony, which were mainly rubber and tin.