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1909-1941 - Federated and Unfederated States

In 1909 the federation was further centralized by the creation of a federal council combining executive and legislative functions. Headed by the high commissioner, its initial membership included the chief secretary (formerly the resident general), the four sultans, the four residents and four nominated unofficial members, of whom three were British and one was Chinese. Later, the heads of the larger administrative departments were added, and the rulers were replaced by four unofficial Malay members.

The Federal Council brought representatives of the states into closer relations with the British authorities at Kuala Lumpur, but its activities had little effect on the actual process of government. In the 1930's the British Government adopted a new policy of decentralization. Federal administrative departments exercised less control over their counterparts in the states, and laws were passed by each state council rather than by the Federal Council. The federal government continued to exert its influence largely through its still centralized control of transport, communications, police and, most important, finance.

Also in 1909, Siam transferred to Great Britain its suzerainty over the four northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Trengganu. Treaties were signed between Great Britain and the four states, which did not, however, accept British advisers immediately. Kelantan accepted an adviser in 1910. Trengganu accepted only an agent, with carefully defined authority, and not until 1919 did it accept a regular adviser. Kedah delayed until 1923 and Perlis until 1930, both insisting on legal safeguards against too great an extension of British authority. Great Britain agreed that it would not transfer its suzerain rights to another power and that territories of a state would not be merged or combined with any other without the written consent of the sultan in council. Like Johore, however, these four states refused to join the federation for fear of losing their sovereignty. They were linked together in nomenclature as the Unfederated States, but only to indicate their common position outside the federation.

Until 1946 the three separate types of relationship to Great Britain remained. All Malay states shared only the fact that they were to varying degrees under the jurisdiction of the high commissioner, who was at the same tune the governor of the Straits Settlements. The four northern states had much in common. Johore, however, came to resemble the states of the federation more than it resembled others outside it. Although some of the Unfederated States borrowed much from British innovations in the Federated States, they limited the activities of the advisers, whom they insisted must respect the prerogatives of the Malay rulers, and their state councils and civil services differed from those of the federation in having more Malay and fewer British members.

The four northern states were much less wealthy than the Federated States, and their populations remained predominantly Malay. In the northeastern states of Kelantan and Trengganu this Malay predominance had the effect of avoiding the problems which arose in states where Chinese outnumbered the Malays and where European influence had promoted too many upsetting innovations; even the architecture of their cities revealed the absence of European influence. Kedah developed somewhat more along the line of the Federated States and received a larger influx of immigrants; along with Johore it assumed leadership among the Unfederated States, because of a larger population, greater wealth and the political acumen of the ruling families.

Throughout British rule, Johore remained an exception to most generalizations about the differences between the Federated and Un- federated States. With the expansion of rubber cultivation in the twentieth century, it experienced a rise in revenues and population, largely through immigration, unequaled elsewhere in Malaya. From the start Johore maintained close relations with the British, a necessity in view of Johore's proximity to Singapore Island, and for years its ruling family lived in Singapore. A Johore ruler, Abu Bakar, who became a good friend of Queen Victoria, in 1895 promulgated a constitution drafted by British legal advisers, the first written constitution in Malaya; with amendments, it is still in effect in Johore. Yet Johore did not accept a British adviser of the usual pattern until 1914.

Other developments in Malaya during this period were largely continuations of trends begun in the previous century. Railroads, roads and communications were extended into the Unfederated States; Social services increased throughout the Peninsula. Gradually, more Malays were admitted to the civil service, but Englishmen continued to hold most of the higher administrative and almost all of the technical positions. Malays, Indians and Chinese were given slightly more opportunity to advise the government of their opinions, but neither the fact of nor the demand for representative government existed.

Although British rule brought a long era of peace and prosperity, the linking of Malaya to the world economy had its less fortunate effects. The policy of free trade transferred commerce from the Malay rulers to foreigners—British, Indian and Chinese. Immigration created a country with almost as many Chinese as Malays. The dependence of revenues on rubber and tin put the economy at the mercy of changes in world demand for these products. In the 1930's thousands of unemployed Indian and Chinese workers had to be repatriated.

Malaya was notably slow to develop a sense of nationalism or of hostility to Great Britain. The growth of a nationalist spirit was retarded by the existence of three types of government in the country; by the separate state traditions and loyalties; by the relative pros- perity until the depression; and by the serious problem of ethnic divisions. Moreover, the principle of indirect rule, although a fiction in many of the states, had been preserved. In principle, if not in fact, the British officials were part of the sultans' governments.

The popularity of the British among the educated Malays first began to wane during the economic depression of the 1930's, and both the Indonesian nationalist movement and the Pan-Islamic movement in the Arab countries had some effect; on the whole, however, the Malays remained politically passive until the end of World War II. Among the Chinese in Malaya nationalism became a real force in the 1920's and 1930's. The Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party of China, received much of its early support from the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. At one time the British considered it dangerous to allow Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Chinese Republic, to remain in Penang. After the conservative and the Communist wings of the Kuomintang had split both found support among Malaya's Chinese, whose interest, however, was in Chinese politics and did not extend into Malayan politics. The cultural nationalism of the Chinese led the Malays to feel more strongly than before that the Chinese were a threat to Malaya. Indeed, Chinese nationalism acted as a brake on Malayan nationalism, for the Malays sought British protection against the potential dominance of the Chinese.

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