Anthony Burgess on Malaysia

Malaysia celebrated its 52nd independence anniversary recently. So how much has it changed since Anthony Burgess wrote about it in The Malayan Trilogy?

The book is based on his experiences as an education officer in Malaysia in the 1950s.

In his introduction to The Malayan Trilogy, he writes: “The Malays resented Chinese wealth and were determined to keep the Chinese out of politics.”

On the other side, says Burgess, were the “Chinese communist terrorists” who fought a guerrilla war throughout the 1950s.  “These were young men and women, possessed of weapons left over from the war (World War II) and animated by political ideals taken from Peking, who were determined to prevent Malaya’s emergence to parliamentary democracy and wished to see a communist state ruled by Chinese,”  he says.

Here is his introduction to The Malayan Trilogy, which is worth reading in full.


The Ascent of Money and Chiamerica

The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

The next time anyone blames Wall Street and the US Federal Reserve for the global economic downturn, throw the book at him. Not just any book but Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money.

This excellent, immensely readable history of banking and finance published last year not only saw the crisis coming but was quick to pin the blame – not on America but on Chiamerica. Ferguson, an eminent British economic historian, describes how American consumers binged on cheap Chinese goods until the US economy went bust, dragging the rest of the world into a recession.

Here’s a televised part of the book dealing with Chiamerica.

Ferguson writes:

In effect, the People’s Republic of China has become banker to the United States of America.

At first sight, it may seem bizarre.Today the average American earns more than $34,000 a year… the average Chinese lives on less than $2,000. Why would the latter want to lend to the former?

The answer is that, until recently, the best way for China to employ its vast population was through exporting manufactures to the insatiably spendthrift US consumer.

To ensure that those exports were irresistibly cheap, China had to fight the tendency for the Chinese currency to strengthen against the dollar by buying literally billions of dollars on world markets…

From America’s point of view, meanwhile, the best way of keeping the good times rolling in recent years has been to import cheap Chinese goods. Moreover, by outsourcing manufacturing to China, US corporations have been able to reap the benefits of cheap labour too. And, crucially, by selling billions of dollars of bonds to the People’s Bank of China, the United States has been able to enjoy significantly lower rates of interest than would otherwise have been the case.


Nehru and China

Shashi Tharoor, the Indian diplomat who stood for the post of United Nations secretary-general last year but was rejected by the Americans in favour of the South Korean Ban Ki Moon, quietly dropped a bombshell in his book, Nehru: The Invention of India, published four years ago. India could have apparently become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but, no, said Nehru (picture from the BBC): Give the seat to China!

Such generosity is unheard of in international diplomacy. But Tharoor wrote:   

“Indian diplomats who have seen the files swear that (in the early 1950s) Jawaharlal … declined a US offer to take the permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council then held, with scant credibility, by Taiwan, urging that it be offered to Beijing instead.”

If true, it was foolish in the extreme. Leaders are expected to put their own countries’ interests first. But idealism coloured Nehru’s vision. He regarded China as another ancient civilisation freed from colonialism and preached: “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai.” The Hindi phrase means, “Indians and Chinese are brothers.”

He was to be bitterly disillusioned when China fought India in the 1962 border war. Two years later, he died in his sleep at the age of 74.

Nehru shouldn’t have been caught unawares by the border war. Tharoor writes:

“China’s re-establishment of its authority in Tibet in 1950 brought the People’s Liberation Army to the frontiers of India along a British-demarcated boundary (the McMahon Line) that Beijing had never recognised… Nehru did not, however, press Beijing to a negotiated settlement on the border, preferring to take at face value a statement by (Chinese foreign minister) Chou (En Lai) in 1952 that China had no border dispute with India.”

In 1962, Chinese troops poured across the border. “It was a rout,” says Tharoor. After a month-long war, he adds, “On Nov 21 China… unilaterally declared a ceasefire and withdrew from much of the territory it had captured, retaining some 2,500 square miles in the western sector.”

The border dispute still remains unsettled. But no one seems to mind. The foreign ministers of China, India and Russia met in Delhi last month, ostensibly to discuss trade and energy issues.

The International Herald Tribune reported:

“The three countries have vehemently denied that they are forming a coalition against American dominance in international affairs. But … the leaders emphasized their ‘strong commitment’ to ‘multilateral diplomacy’ …”

Sure, let’s all work together and give peace a chance.

But Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, 71, is certainly old enough to remember the 1962 border war. It wasn’t the Russians who helped India then but the Americans under President Kennedy, who at the same time repulsed the Russians in the Cuban missile crisis.