This chapter traces political developments in the Melaka Straits and northwest Borneo from the signing of the Pangkor Treaty in 1874 to 1919. In a process that stretched over many years, colonial authority on the Peninsula was formalized in several different administrative units that were collectively known as ‘British’ Malaya, while Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo became British protectorates. Although 1874 is thus a convenient date to mark the beginning of Malaysia’s colonial period, it did not signify a radical change in imperial policy, since for some time the Colonial Office had been discussing the possible appointment of British Agents in the western Malay states. Nor does the Pangkor Treaty signal a clear break between two different phases of economic development. Despite the expectations of the commercial community in the Straits Settlements, Chinese predominance continued in both tin mining and most forms of plantation agriculture and not until the 1890s did the initiative pass to Europeans. The significance of the Pangkor Treaty is the fact that it represented a turning point in the formal relationship between Britain and the Malay states. Arguments for and against expansion of British control had been tossed back and forth since Singapore’s founding, but once the Pangkor Treaty had been concluded it essentially became a question of how and when the British ‘sphere of influence’ would become a legal reality.
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