Changing Nations: The formation of Malaysia, 1963

06 February 2020

History | Politics | War and Conflict

On 16th September 1963, Prime Minister of Malaya Tunku Abdul Rahman declared the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, joining Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah. Indonesian leader Sukarno strongly opposed this union, resulting in the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, or ‘Konfrontasi’. This was a period of conflict lasting from 1963-1966, with Indonesian officials criticising the involvement of western nations and concerned at the potential loss of their national identity.

Material within the recently published Foreign Office Files for South East Asia, 1963-1980 collection explores a growing tension within Indonesia, progressing from peaceful demonstrations to more violent conflict. In correspondence to the Foreign Office, the ambassador in Jakarta, Andrew Gilchrist, declares:

‘The Embassy offices and my residence are strongly guarded…There is an infernal mess to clear up but we are open for business in all departments… The charred corpse of my poor old Princess is causing an elegant traffic jam.’

The ‘Princess’ he is referring to is his car, destroyed by fire after a violent demonstration.

Indonesia: Political Relations: UK [3], 1963, © Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. www.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


On 18th September 1963, with tensions escalating after the recent declaration of the creation of Malaysia, the British Embassy building in Jakarta was attacked. Correspondence in this collection includes updates on action as it happens, with telegrams advising: ‘EMERGENCY: Further violent attack on Embassy now in progress.’ Correspondence continues, following the entrance of rioters into the building, fire breaking out and the vacation of the British Embassy. This comprehensive coverage of the conflict in Indonesia at this time highlights the impact internationally of these huge political changes, as regions attempted to form alliances while maintaining their identity. British involvement in the establishment of Malaysia through the Cobbold Commission of Enquiry caused further complications, with Sukarno declaring Malaysia a ‘pro-Western’ region.

Indonesia: Political Relations: UK [3], 1963, © Images including crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. www.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


The Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation lasted three years, gradually easing with Suharto’s rise to power. At a conference in Bangkok in 1966, a peace treaty was signed, declaring the conflict over. The fascinating documents within Foreign Office Files for South East Asia explore this period of intense change in South East Asia in great detail through a broad range of material from The National Archives, UK, including general correspondence, official statements, newspaper clippings and witness statements detailing the intensity of the conflict and the impact of this on a global scale.


The first module of Foreign Office Files for South East Asia, 1963-1980 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

Natalie Dale

Natalie Dale

Since joining Adam Matthew in January 2018, I have worked on some fascinating collections, including Colonial America, Shakespeare's Globe Archive, Sex and Sexuality and Foreign Office Files for South East Asia. I have a Masters in Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and my interests include gender studies, literature and theatre.