Japanese occupation. [1]


Unrest under colonial rule grows. Trade unions and the Malayan Communist Party organise strikes.

Employers attempt to re-impose discipline through harsh measures including flogging, banishment and execution. [3]


British-ruled Malayan territories unified under Federation of Malaya. [1]

June - the murders of three rubber plantation managers triggers the State of Emergency. [3]


Britain declares ‘emergency’ in Malaya and begins 12-year war to defeat rebels, who are mainly marginalised Chinese. Britain secretly describes war as ‘in defence of [the] rubber industry’ and engages in widespread bombing, draconian police measures and ‘resettlement’ of hundreds of thousands of people in fortified ‘new villages’. [2]

Under emergency regulations a range of dictatorial powers are decreed: ‘seditious’ publications are proscribed; coercive powers of detention, arrest, trial, deportation and ‘banishment’ are introduced; the death penalty is prescribed for carrying unauthorised firearms; and the registration of the entire adult population is commenced. [3]

By October 1950, the UK has committed twenty-one infantry regiments, two armoured car regiments and one commando brigade, totalling nearly 50,000 troops. An official estimate put the overall cost at a staggering £700 million, of which the UK government spent £520 million. [3]

As Creech Jones told Cabinet (but not parliament):

“During 1947 the total value of the exports of Singapore and the [Malayan] Federation together was £151 million of which dollar exports accounted for £56 million. [Malaya] is by far the most important source of dollars in the colonial empire and it would gravely worsen the whole dollar balance of the Sterling Area if there were serious interference with Malayan exports.” [3]

In 1948 the US imported 727,000 tons of rubber, of which Malaya supplied 371,000. The US imported 158,000 tons of tin of which all but 3000 came from Malaya. In terms of dollars, rubber production exceeded in total value all domestic exports from Great Britain to the United States. During 1946-1950, it derived US$700 million income from rubber exports to America. Any interruption of that supply, such as that presented by the insurgency, would seriously impair the British economy. [3]


Chin Peng (the leader of the MCP) offers, in vain, to negotiate a settlement. [3]


Federation of Malaya becomes independent from Britain with Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime minister. [1]


MCP demobilised. [3]


Chin Peng, still with a large price on his head, and a small nucleus regroups near the Malay-Thai border where they hide, train new cadres and carry out hit-and-run guerrilla attacks along the northern Malay peninsula for the next twenty five years. A final peace agreement was eventually signed on 2 December 1989. [3]


British colonies of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore join Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia. [1]


Singapore withdraws from Malaysia, which is reduced to 13 states; communist insurgency begins in Sarawak. [1]


Malays stage anti-Chinese riots in the context of increasing frustration over the economic success of the ethnic Chinese. [1]


Tun Abdul Razak becomes prime minister following Abdul Rahman's resignation; forms National Front (BN) coalition. [1]


Government introduces minimum quotas for Malays in business, education and the civil service. [1]


Kelantan chief minister expelled from Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), triggering unrest, a national emergency and the expulsion of PAS from the BN coalition. [1]


Vietnamese refugees benefit from unrestricted asylum. [1]


Mahathir Mohamad becomes prime minister. [1]


Local communist insurgents sign peace accord with government. [1]


Sarawak communist insurgents sign peace accord with government. [1]


Sultans lose legal immunity. [1]


Asian financial crisis spells end of decade of impressive economic growth. [1]


Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sacks his deputy and presumed successor, Anwar Ibrahim, on charges of sexual misconduct, against the background of differences between the two men over economic policy; Ibrahim arrested. [1]


Ibrahim is found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison. This is added to the six-year jail sentence he was given in 1999 after being found guilty of corruption following a controversial trial. [1]


February - Government decides to proceed with construction of huge Bakun hydroelectric power project on island of Borneo despite serious environmental concerns. [1]

March - Dozens arrested during Malaysia's worst ethnic clashes in decades between Malays and ethnic Indians. [1]

April - Demonstrations against the Internal Security Act following the detention without trial of supporters of Anwar Ibrahim. [1]

September - Malaysia, Singapore resolve long-standing disputes, ranging from water supplies to air space. They also agree to build a new bridge and tunnel. [1]


February - Police round up thousands of Indonesians and Filipinos in a campaign to curb illegal immigration. [1]

June - Veteran Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announces that he will resign in 2003. The news sends shockwaves across the country. [1]

August - Tough new laws against illegal immigrants come into effect, providing for whipping and prison terms for offenders. Laws prompt exodus of foreign workers. [1]


October - Abdullah Ahmad Badawi takes over as prime minister as Mahathir Mohamad steps down after 22 years in office. [1]


March - Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi wins landslide general election victory. [1]

September - Former deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim freed after court overturns his sodomy conviction. [1]