This is a two-part series of an article from the archive of Time magazine on Tunku Abdul Rahman and the making of Malaysia published on 12 April 1963, few months before the birth of the new nation.
Recommended reading for those born after Malaysia Day.
We are still in a state of embroglio.
Malaysia:The Man Who
Manila hummed with excitement as delegates gathered for the third annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asia. Phalanxes of motorcycle police escorted shiny official limousines to meetings at the pale, domed conference hall in the heart of the city. Inside the paneled auditorium and at diplomatic cocktail parties, an endless stream of dignitaries strolled up to greet the man who was the focus of everyone's attention. Malaya's stocky, smiling Prime Minister Abdul Rahman. 60. the golf-playing ex-playboy who this summer will bring into being a new Asian nation.
To one and all. Abdul Rahman happily took credit for the formation of the Malaysian Federation. As he puts it. "I am the father of Malaysia." Strictly speaking, this is not true; the idea has long been the dream of Asian nationalists enchanted by its economic and political prospects. For years. Britain too has advocated the plan as a neat way to tie up all its remaining Asian colonies (with the exception of Hong Kong) into one tidy independent package. But the Tunku (it means Prince) was the indispensable catalyst without whom Malaysia could not have been achieved. He wooed, bullied and cajoled the four other countries into the federation agreement, was the only logical choice to serve as the new nation's first Prime Minister.
Happy, Not Mighty. Unlike most other new Asian leaders, Abdul Rahman is no rabid nationalist. He has remained on close, friendly terms with the British, has no interest in pie-in-the-sky economic schemes. His political aims are simple: "Food instead of bullets, clothing instead of uniforms, houses instead of barracks.'' His new nation has a combat army of only seven battalions and an air force so small that the pilots often have trouble finding a fourth for bridge. "My ambition is not mighty Malaysia," says Abdul Rahman, "but happy Malaysia."
But many pressing problems threaten the Tunku's ambition. Malaysia's current prosperity is endangered by its dependence on a one-crop economy. Synthetics have already captured half the world's annual 5,000,000-ton rubber market and forced down the price of latex. On top of this, Brunei's oil reserves are fast depleting. To counter the economic threat, Malaya has embarked on an ambitious diversification program, is offering a five-year tax holiday to new industries and pushing a big land-development program for new cash crops.
Politically, Malaysia has already experienced some acute pains. Fearful that a stable new nation will curb Communist subversion in Southeast Asia, Russia has branded the federation "a cunning invention of London" set up with the "unqualified support of U.S. imperialists.'' Both neighboring Indonesia and the Philippines have launched a campaign of invective against the whole idea.