At the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941 the outlines of contemporary Malaysia, though certainly visible, were only lightly drawn. More than a generation after the creation of ‘British Malaya’, the administrative unity envisaged by colonial officials remained elusive, and though closer connections with the Borneo states were contemplated, the nature of any future affiliation was unclear. Singapore’s fall to the Japanese initiated a long and sometimes painful process which involved not merely the negotiation and defence of political boundaries, but debates about the determinants of a national identity and the extent to which priorities should be shaped by ethnic considerations. Critical events – the Japanese invasion in 1942, the rejection of the Malayan Union in 1946, the Emergency, 1948−60, independence in 1957, the formation of Malaysia in 1963, and the ethnic riots of 1969 – can all be seen as steps in ‘the making of Malaysia’. As this chapter will show, at no stage was the outcome predictable; indeed, at times the very existence of the country seemed threatened by the succession of challenges that marked the end of British colonialism and the beginning of the experiment in nation-building.
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