If India was the jewel in the imperial crown, Malaya was the industrial diamond. In 1940, the governor of Singapore estimated, Malaya was 'worth' an estimated £227.5 million to the British Empire. Its exports were £131.25 million, of which £93 million were to foreign countries, especially to the United States, to which it sold more than any other territory of the British Empire except Canada. From 1895 until the Japanese war, at no point did British Malaya need financial help from outside. Its status as a model colony was achieved from its own resources, and its accumulated budget surpluses saw it through the Great Depression. The key to the great public works and civic conceits of the Straits Settlements was opium. Duty on opium accounted for between 40 and 60 per cent of its annual revenue. Its production was monopolized by the government 'Chandu factory' on Pepys Road in Singapore which turned out 100 million tubes a year. Much of the revenue burden of Malaya therefore fel upon the Asian, particularly Chinese, labourers who were the greatest consumers of opium. The British crescent in Asia was supported by narco-colonialism on a colossal scale.SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 33-34
One of the most dramatic effects of the coming war was the way it forged the crescent into a bloodstained unity. First, the Japanese unified the peninsula from Singapore through Thailand to the borders of Assam by armed invasion. In response the British punched a land route from north India through the nearly impassable ranges of Assam and north Burma into the Irrawaddy valley. Reoccupying the Malay peninsula, they reclaimed their Southeast Asian patrimony. In fact, the designation 'Southeast Asia' was itself a brainchild of the military strategists who created Southeast Asia Command in 1943. Yet, as jazz-age imperialism drew to its end in 1939, there seemed little enough as yet, besides their rock solid belief in British superiority, to draw together the white settler societies of the crescent.