Mr. Brackman has given us the first full-length account of relations among the members of the “Malay triangle” (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia) since the Malaysia proposal was made in May, 1961. He has also analyzed these relations in a wider con-text which includes the strategies in the area of Britain, the United States, Australia, Russia and China. The timing of the book is fortunate. He is able to include in his analysis the results of the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in August, 1965 and, in the last few pages, to speculate on possible changes in Indonesia after the abortive coup of September 30-October 1, 1965.
The range of the book and the variety of sources quoted are impressive, ranging from official documents to numerous interviews in all three countries in the “triangle.” It is most convincing when dealing with Indonesia and with the general strategic problems of the area; this is perhaps to be expected from the author of the percipient Indonesian Communism: a History. There are excellent analyses of the PKI and of the overseas Chinese in Indonesia. Mr. Brackman puts forward the interesting hypothesis that before the attempted coup the PKI had become increasingly independent of Moscow and Peking, and that Aidit might have “won Sukarno’s deepening sup-port by unfolding a long-term strategy to restore a Java-based Madjapahit empire in modern Communist dress.”
He also speculates on, pre-coup, possible divisions of spheres of influence between mainland China and Indonesia and on Russian maritime ambitions in the area. Mr. Brackman is less reliable when dealing with the internal politics of Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. There are too many spelling mistakes, and errors on the number of seats in the Singapore Legislative Assembly, the procedure for dissolution in Malaysia and in believing that in Malaysia a civil servant can be “the de facto foreign minister.” This reviewer would also dispute some of his interpretations. He underrates the importance of the financial and trade conflicts which occurred in the pre-Malaysia negotiations between Malaya and Singapore. To refer to newly-independent Singapore as “the new China” is to ignore both the idealism and the ideology of the People’s Action Party government.
– review from The Journal of Politics, Volume 29, Number 1 | Feb., 1967