Industries, disco and diplomacy in Malaysia, 1980

06 April 2022

Area Studies | Empire and Globalism | History

This blog includes temporary free access to FCO 15/2684, MALAYSIA: Internal tours and visits in Malaysia by the British High Commissioner and his staff. Click on the images included in this blog post to gain access to this document for free until 4th May 2022.

Published this week, Foreign Office Files for South East Asia: Foundations of Economic Growth and Industrialisation, 1967-1980 - the latest addition to Adam Matthew Digital’s Archives Direct platform – features a broad selection of documents from the National Archives, UK relating to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. This collection provides researchers with access to sources describing substantial economic development across the region, along with social, military, political and diplomatic developments, all set against the backdrop of the Cold War.

Amidst these great changes, personal contacts and tours continued to play a vital role in international relations. It is perhaps no surprise that among the files included in this collection are a great number dedicated to visits made by ministers, presidents and monarchs to a wide range of countries, and British diplomats’ tours of the countries they were posted to - all with the aim of improving or cementing diplomatic and trading relations. In 1980, the Malaysian economy was going from strength to strength, and TNA FCO 15/2684, a file concerning tours and visits made by British diplomats, records a range of visits and meetings. A report on a visit to Ipoh by the UK’s Commercial Counsellor in July lists tours of an array of enterprises, including ‘the biggest management advisory service in the tin industry’, United Asbestos Cement, and the Tong Feng Garments and Tong Meng Knitting factory.

 

Commercial Counsellor's visit to Ipoh, 23-25 Jul 1980, FCO 15/2684. Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.



Perhaps disappointingly for the civil servants who would have read through this report in Whitehall, his report continues to describe a ‘worrying switch from British machinery to equipment from a variety of other countries’. There were, however, plenty of opportunities for British businesses in ‘booming’ Sabah. As UK High Commissioner Donald Hawley reported in April, 'areas of interest' included cocoa dryers, refrigeration plant, canning plant, and sawmilling equipment.

 

Visit to Sabah: 10-13 March 1980, TNA FCO 15/2684. Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.


The importance of personal contacts during these tours to both Malaysian and British officials is underlined in a report of a visit to the State of Pahang by High Commissioner Hawley, where he and his wife were entertained by the Chairman of the Council of Regency, the agenda including ‘a formal lunch and on 13 February… a less formal dinner followed by an evening at the disco in the new Hyatt Hotel!’ Whether the officials reading through this file were as amused by the reference to a hotel disco as I was is not recorded.

 

Visit to Pahang, TNA FCO 15/2684. Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.



Foreign Office Files for South East Asia, Foundations of Economic Growth and Industrialisation, 1967-1980 is available now. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Matt Brand

Matt Brand

I joined Adam Matthew Digital in the autumn of 2016. My main academic interests are British politics and diplomacy during the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in relation to refugees and asylum.