It would be useful to first describe the experiences of each of the five countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand) with communism and also the general background of events in Vietnam prior to 1965. From 1948, the British and Malayan forces fought a communist insurgency in the Malay Peninsula. Chin Peng, who was Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) from 1947, in his recent recollection of the anti-colonial war against the British,1 revealed that although the decision to launch the armed struggle was agreed upon on 21 March 1948, there remained some doubts and misgivings whether the conditions in Malaya and Singapore were indeed ripe for its success. It was, according to Chin Peng, not the strategy per se that was been questioned but the timing of its introduction. Some of them felt that that the war against the British would last two to three years, others longer, while Chin Peng predicted that it would last at least 10 years. However, before the details of timing and implementation could be worked out, the Sungei Siput attacks of 16 June 1948, carried out independently by three communist comrades without the concurrence of the leadership, inadvertently launched the armed struggle before preparations were complete. From August-September 1951, the CPM leadership conducted a review of the armed struggle from late 1948 to 1951 and concluded that the military approach had been “utterly inappropriate” but nevertheless remained confident that they could continue with guerrilla warfare. The 1 October 1951 resolution issued at the end of the meeting thus focused on political rather than military strategy. It was felt that excesses committed during the military struggle had jeopardized the close relationship with the people, particularly the middle class. But as Chin Peng revealed with the benefit of hindsight, “by neglecting to drive home military requirements in the resolution, we most assuredly lost the initiative on the battlefield at the precise moment the enemy was deeply concerned with what we might be planning to do next”. Chin Peng also confessed that at the time he did not realize the need to plan specific, spectacular attacks purely for their political impact in the colonial motherland. Thus, although US Intelligence noted that since the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu and the 1954 Geneva Conference, there was a marked increase of communist-inspired and directed activities in Singapore,2

Chin Peng revealed that any lesson they could have learned from that “spectacular victory” came too late. The meeting between the Tengku and Chin Peng at Baling (northern Kedah) on 28-29 December 1955 failed to reach a negotiated agreement. The Tengku demanded that the CPM must surrender but Chin Peng refused.3