Briggs' Plan was a military plan devised by British General Sir Harold Briggs shortly after his appointment in 1950 as Director of Operations in the anti-communist war in Malaya. The plan aimed to defeat the Malayan communists, who were operating out of rural areas as a guerrilla army, primarily by cutting them off from their sources of support amongst the population. To this end, a massive program of forced resettlement of Malayan peasantry was undertaken, under which about 500,000 people (roughly ten percent of Malaya's population) were eventually removed from the land and interned in guarded camps called "New Villages".
British authority in Malaya's rural areas had only been tenuously reestablished following the withdrawal of Japan at the end of World War II. The British regarded a group of about 500,000 "squatters", largely of Chinese descent, who practiced small-scale agriculture, generally lacked legal title to their land, and were largely outside the reach of the colonial administration, as particularly problematic.
They formed the backbone of the communist guerrilla support: some were genuinely sympathetic to communism; others, considering the weak British presence, communist self-help activism, and the leading role that the communists had played in the anti-Japanese resistance during World War II, regarded the Malayan Communist Party as a legitimate authority, and were not hard to prevail upon for contributions; still others were definitely threatened by the guerrillas into giving support.
By isolating this population in the "new villages", the British were able to stem the critical flow of material, information, and recruits from peasants to guerillas. The new settlements were guarded around-the-clock by police and were partially fortified. This served the twofold purpose of preventing those who were so inclined from getting out and voluntarily aiding the guerrilla, and of preventing the guerrilla from getting in and extracting help via persuasion or intimidation.
450 new settlements were created in this process and it is estimated that 470,509 people - 400,000 Chinese - were involved in the program. The Malaysian Chinese Association, then the Malayan Chinese Association, played a crucial role in implementing the program.
The British also tried to win the hearts of some of the internees by providing them with education and health services. The New Villages, which were equipped with amenities such as electricity and piped water, were surrounded with perimeter fencing and armed guards to prevent attacks from the communist soldiers.
It was hoped that by providing the Chinese with such facilities, they would be converted from "reservoirs of resentment into bastions of loyal Malayan citizenry". However, critics argue that the homogenous nature of New Villages — with the few multiracial ones eventually failing or turning into ghettoes — worked against this goal, instead accentuating communalist fervour and causing racial polarisation, especially in politics, as electoral constituencies would now be delineated more along racial lines.
Previously, the Chinese had been spread out geographically, but the Briggs Plan would now bring together rural Chinese from all over the country and concentrate them in the New Villages. There was significant resentment towards the programme both among the Chinese and Malays. The Chinese frequently suffered from collective punishment, preventive detention and summary deportation aimed at weeding out communist supporters, while the Malays were incensed at the infrastructure provided for the New Villages as their own settlements remained undeveloped.
Forcibly removing a population that might be sympathetic to guerrillas was a counter-insurgency (COIN) technique which the British had used before, notably initiated by Kitchener against the Boer Commandos in the Second Boer War (1899–1902). It is described in John Nagl's book "Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife" which tries to draw lessons from the British Malaya experience for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Upon completion of the program, the British initiated the Hunger Drive in an effort to flush out the communists from the jungle.
- New Village / Chinese New Village
- Nagl, John A. (2005). "Learning to Eat Soup With a knife". Chicago: University of Chicago Press.