Indonesia–Malaysia Confrontation

The Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, or Konfrontasi, lasted from 1963 to 1966.1 The conflict was an intermittent war waged by Indonesia to oppose the formation and existence of the Federation of Malaysia.2 It was marked by a breakdown in political, economic and social relations that eventually led to armed incursions, bomb attacks, and acts of subversion and destabilisation.3

The proposal for a Federation of Malaysia was first announced in May 1961. The proposal sought to merge Malaya, Singapore and British colonies in Borneo, namely North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and Brunei.4 Indonesia initially did not raise any objections. Its opposition to the proposal came after the outbreak of the 1962 Brunei revolt.5

Several reasons were put forward for Indonesia’s opposition to the formation of Malaysia.6 One was that Indonesia regarded the Federation as having a neo-colonial 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.7

The beginning of Confrontation
In December 1962, Brunei faced a revolt by the North Kalimantan National Army (Tentera Nasional Kalimantan Utara), which was pushing for the independence of Brunei instead of its joining the Federation.8 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 issuing statements in support of the uprising which culminated in a heated exchange between Indonesia and Malaysia.9 On 20 January 1963, the Indonesian Foreign Minister announced a policy of confrontation towards Malaya in economic and social relations. While there were intermittent attempts at reaching a political understanding, Indonesian troops began engaging in raids, sabotage and attempted subversion in Sarawak and Sabah.10

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 proceeded 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. Talks in Manila between the two countries from 30 July to 5 August helped to diffuse 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.11 On 16 September, the Federation was formed but Brunei decided not to join it.12 In response, on 25 September 1963, President Sukarno announced a ganyang Malaysia or “Crush Malaysia” campaign.13

Confrontation escalated to open cross-border military attacks in Sabah and Sarawak14 By 1964, Indonesia had begun raids in Singapore and the Malaysian Peninsula.15 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.16 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.17 Singapore was also hit by a wave of bombings that culminated in the bombing of MacDonald House that killed three people and injured 33 others.18

The end of Confrontation
In 1965, internal strife broke out in Indonesia. From 30 September to 2 October 1965, the Indonesian army crushed an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).19 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.20 Suharto ended the Confrontation, signed a peace treaty with Kuala Lumpur on 11 August 1966, and re-established normal relations with Malaysia and Singapore.21

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.
Sep 1963: The Federation of Malaysia is formed without Brunei. Indonesia declares the “Crush Malaysia” campaign.
Mar 1965: MacDonald House in Singapore is bombed.
Sep–Oct 1965: The Indonesian army crushes an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
Mar 1966: Indonesian President Sukarno transfers power to General Suharto.
Aug 1966: Indonesia signs a peace treaty with Kuala Lumpur.


Marsita Omar

1. Ministry of Internal Security Malaysia, Indonesian Intentions Towards Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off, 1964), 26. (Call no. RCLOS 327.5950598 MAL); J. A. C. Mackie, Konfrontasi: The Indonesia-Malaysia Dispute, 1963–1966 (New York: Oxford University Press, for the Australian Institute of International Affairs, 1974), 125, 322. (Call no. RSING 327.5950598 MAC); “Subandrio’s Speech Direct Attack: Tengku,” Straits Times, 22 January 1963, 1; “Odd Echo,” Straits Times, 18 August 1966, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Richard L. Clutterbuck, Conflict & Violence in Singapore & Malaysia 1945–1983 Singapore: Graham Brash, 1984), 279–80. (Call no. RSING 959.57 CLU-[HIS]); Mackie, Konfrontasi, 200–01.
3. Ministry of Internal Security Malaysia, Indonesian Intentions Towards Malaysia, 28–29, 51; “Subandrio’s Speech Direct Attack: Tengku.”
4. Anwar Dewi Fortuna, Indonesia in ASEAN: Foreign Policy and Regionalism (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1994), 23. (Call no. RSING 327.598059 ANW); Clutterbuck, Conflict & Violence, 155, 278; M. C. Ricklefs, A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1200 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 329. (Call no. RSEA 959.8 RIC); Mighty “Malaysia’,” Straits Times, 29 May 1961, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Fortuna, Indonesia in ASEAN, 23; Mackie, Konfrontasi, 103.
6. Ministry of Internal Security Malaysia, Indonesian Intentions Towards Malaysia, 25, 28; Fortuna, Indonesia in ASEAN, 25–26; Clutterbuck, Conflict & Violence, 279.
7. Fortuna, Indonesia in ASEAN, 25–26; Ministry of Internal Security Malaysia, Indonesian Intentions Towards Malaysia, 1–4; Mackie, Konfrontasi, 36, 104–07.
8. Mackie, Konfrontasi, 112, 116–17; Leslie Hoffman, “Sultan Speaks,” Straits Times, 15 December 1962, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Mackie, Konfrontasi, 117–19, 122–26.
10. Ricklefs, History of Modern Indonesia, 329–30; Ministry of Internal Security Malaysia, Indonesian Intentions Towards Malaysia, 26–32; “Subandrio’s Speech Direct Attack: Tengku,” Straits Times, 22 January 1963, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Fortuna, Indonesia in ASEAN, 23–24; Mackie, Konfrontasi, 207–08; “Sept 16,” Straits Times, 30 August 1963, 1; “The Manila Declaration,” Straits Times, 6 August 1963, 8; Denis Warner, “Tengku Broke Manila Pact,” Straits Times, 16 July 1963, 1. (From NewpaperSG)
12. Mackie, Konfrontasi, 141; “Messages from All over the World Hail New Nation,” Straits Times, 16 September 1963, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Ricklefs, History of Modern Indonesia, 330; Mackie, Konfrontasi, 200.
14. Clutterbuck, Conflict & Violence, 280–81; Mackie, Konfrontasi, 210.
15. Mackie, Konfrontasi, 258–63.
16. Clutterbuck, Conflict & Violence, 279–81; Mackie, Konfrontasi, 210–13; Ricklefs, History of Modern Indonesia, 333.
17. Mackie, Konfrontasi, 256–59.
18. “Terror Bomb Kills 2 girls at Bank,” Straits Times, 11 March 1965, 1; “Bomb Victim No. 3 Dies of Wounds,” Straits Times, 13 March 1965, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Mackie, Konfrontasi, 311; Ricklefs, History of Modern Indonesia, 335–41.
20. Ricklefs, History of Modern Indonesia, 346–54.
21. Fortuna, Indonesia in ASEAN, 41; Clutterbuck, Conflict & Violence, 281.

Further resource
Gabriel Tan Soon Hock, Indonesian Confrontation and Sarawak Communist Insurgency, 1963–1966: Experiences of a Local Reporter (Malaysia: Penerbitan Sehati, 2008), 131. (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.

1955-1965 Road to independence
National security
Political violence--Singapore