Indonesia–Malaysia Confrontation

The Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation or Konfrontasi lasted from 1963 to 1966, and posed the only external threat to Singapore since the Japanese Occupation. The conflict was an intermittent war waged by Indonesia to oppose the formation and existence of the Federation of Malaysia. It was marked by armed incursions, bomb attacks, and acts of subversion and destabilisation.

First announced in May 1961, the Federation of Malaysia proposal sought to merge Malaya, Singapore and the British colonies in Borneo, namely, North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and Brunei. Indonesia initially did not raise any objections, and its opposition to the proposal came only after the outbreak of the 1962 Brunei revolt.

Several reasons have been put forward for Indonesia's opposition to the formation of Malaysia. One belief was that then Indonesian President Sukarno had ambitions of including the North Borneo territories to form a bigger Indonesia or a Borneo state sympathetic to or aligned with Indonesia. Indonesia also regarded the Federation as having a neocolonial status contrary to that of revolutionary Indonesia, especially in light of the fact that Britain would continue to have military bases in Malaya and Singapore.

The beginning of Confrontation
In December 1962, Brunei faced a revolt by a radical Muslim movement, the North Kalimantan National Army. Its leader, Sheikh Azahari, had close ties with Lim Chin Siong, a prominent left-wing union leader in Singapore. In response to the revolt, British troops were sent from Singapore to Brunei, where they crushed the revolt within days. During the last days of the revolt, Indonesia began making inflammatory statements to raise tensions in Borneo. On 20 January 1963, the Indonesian Foreign Minister announced a policy of confrontation towards Malaya. While there were intermittent attempts at reaching a political understanding, Indonesian troops began engaging in raids, sabotage and attempted subversion in Sarawak and Sabah.

In May 1963, President Sukarno and Tunku Abdul Rahman held talks and agreed that a plebiscite would be held before the Federation was formed. Sukarno agreed that Indonesia would not stand in the way if the people of North Borneo supported the Federation. However, the Tunku went on to sign the London Agreement on 9 July in which it was settled that the Federation of Malaysia would be formed on 31 August 1963. In response, on 27 July 1963, President Sukarno announced a ganyang Malaysia or "Crush Malaysia" campaign. Talks in Manila from 30 July to 5 August helped to decrease tensions. However, when it was announced on 29 August that the Federation of Malaysia would be formed on 16 September, Indonesia saw it as a breach of faith. On 16 September, the Federation was formed but Brunei decided not to join it.

Confrontation escalated to open cross-border military attacks in Sabah and Sarawak. By 1964, Indonesia had also begun raids in Singapore and the Malaysian Peninsula. To repulse infiltrators and prevent incursions, British, Gurkha and other Commonwealth troops remained at the request of Malaysia. Together with the Malay battalions, they engaged in successful offensives against the Indonesian troops. In June and July 1964, Indonesian army units infiltrated Singapore with instructions to destroy transportation and other links between the island and the state of Johore. It was also suspected that they were behind the September 1964 communal riots in Singapore. Singapore was also hit by a wave of bomb explosions culminating in the bombing of MacDonald House that killed 3 people and injured 33 others.

The end of Confrontation
In 1965, internal strife broke out in Indonesia. On 30 September 1965, the Indonesian army crushed an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). This was followed by a massacre of PKI members such that by March 1966, Sukarno, whose support base lay with the PKI, was forced to transfer power to General Suharto. The latter became Indonesia's de facto political leader. Sukarno was put under house arrest and Suharto was formally installed as President. Suharto ended the Confrontation, signed a peace treaty with Kuala Lumpur on 11 August 1966, and re-established normal relations with Malaysia and Singapore.

May 1961 : The proposal to create the Federation of Malaysia is announced.
Dec 1962 : British troops crush the Brunei revolt.
Jan 1963 : The Indonesian Foreign Minister announces a policy of confrontation towards Malaya.
May 1963 : President Sukarno and Tunku Abdul Rahman agree to hold a plebiscite on the Federation proposal.
Jul 1963 : Tunku Abdul Rahman signs the London Agreement. In response, Indonesia declares the "Crush Malaysia" campaign.
Sep 1963 : The Federation of Malaysia is formed without Brunei.
Mar 1965 : MacDonald House in Singapore is bombed.
Sep 1965 : The Indonesian army crushes an attempted coup by the PKI.
Mar 1966 : Indonesian President Sukarno transfers power to General Suharto.
Aug 1966 : Indonesia signs a peace treaty with Kuala Lumpur.

Marsita Omar

Anwar, D. F. (1994). Indonesia in ASEAN: Foreign policy and regionalism. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
(Call no.: RSING 327.598059 ANW)

Clutterbuck, Richard L. (1984). Conflict & violence in Singapore & Malaysia 1945-1983. Singapore: Graham Brash.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 CLU -[HIS])

Corfield, Justin J., & Corfield, Robin. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Pub.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR -[HIS])

Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank. (1965, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on March 30, 2010 from NewspaperSG.

Further readings
Mackie, J. A. C. (1974). Konfrontasi: the Indonesia-Malaysia dispute, 1963-1966. Kuala Lumpur; New York: Oxford University Press, for the Australian Institute of International Affairs.
(Call no.: RSING 327.5950598 MAC)

Malaysia. Ministry of Internal Security. (1964). Indonesian intentions towards Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off.
(Call no.: RSING 327.5950598 MAL)

Ricklefs, M. C. (2008). A history of modern Indonesia since c.1200. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
(Call no.: RSEA 959.8 RIC)

Tan, G. S. H. (2008). Indonesian confrontation and Sarawak communist insurgency, 1963-1966: Experiences of a local reporter. Kuching, Malaysia: Penerbitan Sehati.
(Call no.: RSEA 959.54 TAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

People and communities>>Social conflict>>Terrorism
National security
Politics and Government>>National security
Events>>Historical Periods>>Self-Government, Merger and Separation (1955-1965)
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Political violence--Singapore
1955-1965 Road to independence

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