Straits of Malacca

Straits of Malacca: Gateway or Gauntlet?

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Straits of Malacca
    Book Description:

    Casting a broad net across several disciplines, particularly geography and political economy, Donald Freeman examines the significance of the Straits as both a trade gateway and a choke-point that has forced generations of sailors to "run the gauntlet." Rather than the more conventional historical-narrative approach, he offers an innovative adoption of an interdisciplinary, analytical perspective through his use of detailed case studies of trading systems and shipping hazards.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7087-0
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Maps and Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. Note on Nomenclature and Spelling of Place Names
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. Acronyms
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  8. Plates
    (pp. xxv-xxx)
    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      In the history of world trade there have been few more powerful or pervasive geographic influences on the pattern of flows of goods and the fortunes of trading powers than the Straits of Malacca. This constricted waterway between West (peninsular) Malaysia and the island of Sumatra, although relatively remote from the major foci of world population concentration and development, ranks among a handful of strategic shipping gateways around the globe that have played a preeminent role in ocean-borne trade. This brief list includes similar natural shipping gateways at Gibraltar, Dover, the Baltic, the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, Bab al-Mandeb, Hormuz, and...

    • 1 The Geographic Importance of the Straits of Malacca
      (pp. 3-9)

      In essence, the Straits of Malacca derive their enduring importance from the simple factor of strategic location. An appreciation of this factor can be gained from a glance at the geographic patterns portrayed in map 1 showing the arrangement of continental, peninsular, and archipelagic land masses and the straits and seas around them. Within this complex and fragmented realm there arose over the centuries numerous politically and economically sophisticated and powerful state societies that were eager to trade with distant lands and to extend their influence within and beyond their immediate environs. The similarity of this economically vibrant region with...

    • 2 Monsoonal Circulation and Revolutions in Shipping and Navigation
      (pp. 10-27)

      The demand for luxuries by wealthy elites, the associated need to procure raw materials and staple foodstuffs, and the institutional structures that early states erected to satisfy these demands were important in the setting up of long-distance trade between East and West, as the following chapters will discuss. Perhaps the most important factors in establishing this trade, however, were the contemporaneous revolutions in ocean navigation and shipbuilding technology, as well as the discovery of the pattern of reversing winds, or monsoons, in the eastern seas. These factors, as will be shown, made routine hemispheric trade feasible, enabling merchants to overcome...

    • 3 Economic-Geographic Concepts of Long-Distance Trade, Spatial Duopoly, and Network Structures
      (pp. 28-44)

      This chapter explores the factors that have promoted trade and transport through the Straits of Malacca and that, therefore, have made these straits important in global commerce. Understanding the significance of the straits means understanding the motives and processes that impelled the creators of the systems of goods exchange among geographically remote communities and induced them to overcome the costs and difficulties of long-distance trade. I begin with ideas of exchange derived from economic anthropology and then introduce geographic concepts relating to spatial patterns of trade flows.

      Economic anthropologists identify several discrete types of goods exchanges. These comprise ritualised reciprocity...

    • 4 Concepts and Perspectives from Political Economy
      (pp. 45-52)

      The political economy perspective, which focuses on relationships between political power and wealth creation (Underhill 1994, 17), is of increasing relevance to an understanding of economic interaction in the straits region as we move into the twenty-first century. Such relationships may be either harmonious or conflict-ridden, and, as Jacob Viner (1948–9, 10) once pointed out, both kinds of relationship have for an extended period been intertwined in the creation and execution of state policies. External political and economic relations, not simply domestic policies and wealth creation within states, have long been interpreted in the light of concepts and perspectives...

    • 5 Practical Incentives and the Organization of Early Long-Distance Trade
      (pp. 53-66)

      The story of trade, according to a popular generalization, is the story of spices. While this association of a single class of precious commodities with the origins of commerce may be an overstatement, it carries an underlying grain of truth: no long-distance trade would occur unless the economic or sociopolitical rewards for the difficulties, costs, and risks of such exchanges were considered ample by those engaged in them. While the last hundred years have witnessed the growth of long-distance bulk transportation of raw materials or fuels that are low in value relative to their volume, in past epochs, as we...

    • 6 Asian-European Trading Systems in the Greco-Roman Era: The Beginnings of Monsoon Trade
      (pp. 69-78)

      The significant role of the Straits of Malacca in long-distance trade had its beginnings in four developments that occurred at a time, over two millennia ago, when Rome replaced Greece as the major maritime power in the Mediterranean. At that time the Romans also inherited Greek trade through Ptolemaic Egypt with points to the south and east. These four developments, which will be discussed at greater length below, are 1 the growing demand among the elites in the West for eastern luxuries such as Chinese silks and Indian spices, gems, and aromatics; 2 the closure of the overland routes to...

    • 7 Monsoon Trade in the Early Fifteenth Century: The Empire of Melaka (Malacca) and Its Precursors
      (pp. 79-89)

      The Common, or Christian, Era ushered in the rapid development of states, kingdoms, and empires in the Southeast Asian realm and concomitant fluctuations in trading relationships within the region, as well as between Europe, Africa, the Persian Gulf, and India to the west and Indonesia, the Indochinese peninsula, China, Korea, Japan, and the Pacific rim to the east. The factors discussed above, notably advances in ship construction, navigation techniques, demand and supply patterns for trade goods – especially luxury items – and improved knowledge of monsoon wind patterns and cartography made open-ocean sailing somewhat less precarious and meant lower costs and a...

    • 8 The Portuguese Trading System in Monsoon Asia
      (pp. 90-96)

      Armed with knowledge about the riches of Southeast Asia acquired as early as 1504, the Portuguese first entered the Melaka River and visited its bustling entrepot in 1509 in the innocuous guise of a handful of merchant seafarers, landing from four small ships commanded by Lopes de Sequeira. Like many other traders before them, the first Portuguese visitors asked for and were initially given permission by its Islamic rulers to trade at this free and open emporium (taxes and duties on goods from the West were light, and none were demanded on food or on goods from points east of...

    • 9 The Dutch Trading System and Holland’s Ascendancy in the Straits of Malacca
      (pp. 97-102)

      The period from 1580 to 1640 saw a gradual weakening in the monopoly power and wealth of Portuguese trade and domination in the East, with the decline of Portuguese fortunes in Europe, as well as the constant attrition of attacks on their shipping, trading factories, and military strongholds from Mombasa to Maluku. The Dutch United East India Company (VOC), meanwhile, had very nearly succeeded in driving its Portuguese and English competitors out of most areas of the Spice Islands in the first two decades of the seventeenth century. In 1596 the Dutch had expelled the Portuguese from Bantam, in Western...

    • 10 The British East India Company Trading System
      (pp. 103-110)

      On 31 December 1600 a company with the title The Governor and Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies commenced its activities under a royal monopoly of trade in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The charter granted by Elizabeth I for fifteen years in the first instance was renewed in 1609 by James I. Nevertheless, a rival English company arose in the late seventeenth century, only to be amalgamated with the Honourable East India Company of London in 1702, to avoid mutual ruination (Morse 1966, 6).

      Under Elizabeth’s charter the first English fleet sailed to the East in 1601,...

    • 11 Contemporary Trading Systems: Japan, Oil, and the Straits of Malacca
      (pp. 111-122)

      The trading system that emerged during the latter half of the twentieth century, that is, in the postcolonial phase of global development, is highly complex and continues to change both in terms of organizational structure and technological characteristics. Organization of transport network structures has featured a move away from national ownership of merchant fleets and associated infrastructure toward globally integrated corporate networks such as shipping conferences or mergers of regional lines. These conferences and other corporate networks subscribe, in theory at least, to the authority of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as well as to that of their “flag” nation,...

    • 12 Controlling Transit Trade: The Entrepot of Melaka
      (pp. 125-134)

      Although transit traffic has passed through the Straits of Malacca for millennia and local produce from the region has been important in sea trade, only since the rise of the empire of Melaka and its colonial successors have certain ports in the region taken on the roles ofprimateentrepots serving remote forelands. As outlined in chapter 3, these are ports whose main functions comprise the facilitation of trade in commodities that have origins and ultimate markets in areas far distant from the port itself, rather than being generated or consumed in its own locality or hinterland. Many factors are...

    • 13 The Founding of British Penang (Pulau Pinang)
      (pp. 135-140)

      Several factors explain the establishment in 1786 of a British entrepot and naval base at Pulau Pinang – originally named after the betel nut palms (pokok pinang) growing profusely on the island. Renamed Prince of Wales Island by the East India Company, during most of the British colonial period the hilly island in the northern straits was known simply (using the colonial spelling of its name) as Penang (MacMillan 1923, 276). The British East India Company had been searching for years to find just such a suitable base to protect and cultivate its lucrative exchange of Indian opium for Chinese tea....

    • 14 The Rise of Singapore as a Global Entrepot
      (pp. 141-151)

      The founding of Singapore in the early nineteenth century was again a consequence of complex political and economic factors in both Europe and the Far East. In Europe the struggle between Britain and Napoleonic France, culminating in the decisive but costly victories of British naval forces at Trafalgar (1805) and land forces at Waterloo (1815), had convinced strategic thinkers in Britain of the value of rebuilding Dutch power as a bulwark against possible future French expansionism. This, as we have seen, entailed restoring to the conquered Dutch their overseas empire, which had been occupied by the British as a preemptive...

    • 15 Changing Local Hinterlands and Products in the Straits Region: Sumatran Trade
      (pp. 152-158)

      While Singapore, Pulau Pinang, and Melaka have historically been the main entrepots in the straits area, trading in such products of distant regions as spices, textiles, aromatics, and metal manufactures, a number of other ports have played more restricted roles as outlets for the products of local hinterlands in the peninsula and the archipelago. During the early historical period, they developed into what have been termed port polities, that is, states whose power and wealth were an outgrowth of their exporting of products from their own productive hinterlands. Given that the Indonesian archipelago was more productive than the peninsula of...

    • 16 Local Trade Hinterlands and Products on the Malay Coast of the Straits
      (pp. 159-164)

      In this chapter the focus is on local Malaysian hinterlands and their products. In the distant past mainly agricultural produce and minerals were dominant here, but in recent years the focus has shifted to oil, gas, and petrochemicals, machinery, automobiles, appliances, and electronic components. These are mostly produced by hightechnology plants in the urban centres forming industrial hinterlands for the ports along the eastern (Malaysian) side of the straits. In the contemporary period, the main port in peninsular Malaysia is Kelang (Klang), which has grown from a sleepy nineteenth-centurykampong(plate 8) to overshadow other ports that date from the...

    • 17 Natural Hazards and Navigation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore
      (pp. 167-173)

      Over the centuries, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore have exacted a physical toll on shipping and trade moving through the waterway between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Despite the losses of lives, ships, and cargo, however, this waterway has generally been adopted as the preferred alternative over the other points of transit through the barrier archipelago of the Indies, such as Selat Sunda and the Bali-Lombok Straits-Celebes Sea route. The Sunda Strait, as mentioned earlier, is very deep at its western end, but as it narrows its bottom becomes shallow and irregular, from about twenty metres...

    • 18 Piracy in the Straits of Malacca and Surrounding Seas
      (pp. 174-188)

      The Straits of Malacca have been notorious throughout recorded history for the predatory activities of pirates and raiders, mostly local Malays but also Sulu peoples, Dyaks, Bugis, Chinese, Thais and, occasionally, Europeans. A combination of geographic, economic, and political factors has made the Straits of Malacca and Singapore almost irresistible to pirates and buccaneers down through the centuries. These factors include the unavoidable spatial concentration of commercial shipping in these waters – mostly of slow and vulnerable merchant vessels laden with rich cargoes – together with the constricted, shallow and treacherous ship passage through the straits that reduces vessel speed and manoeuvrability...

    • 19 Twentieth-Century Military Conflicts in the Straits Area
      (pp. 189-202)

      The fact that the Straits of Malacca comprise a strategic gateway for global shipping and offer an obvious choke-point for any military power desirous of controlling or constricting the movement of shipping in the region has meant that the waterway and surrounding seas have, from time to time, been the scene of military conflicts and even large-scale naval engagements. The British, in concert with the Dutch, inherited the role of peacekeeper in the straits area at the turn of the twentieth century. They jointly maintained sufficient naval and military forces in the region to ensure that peaceful commerce through the...

    • 20 Traffic Congestion, Hazardous Cargoes, and Pollution in the Straits in the Contemporary Period
      (pp. 203-210)

      In the current post-Cold War era of burgeoning, peaceful commerce and trade in Southeast Asia, it is perhaps ironic that the Straits of Malacca have become more hazardous to shipping and trade than ever before, for reasons unrelated to military conflict, piracy, international terrorism, or violent weather (although the possibility of these remains as a threat to shipping in the region). The very success of commercial interaction through the straits and the rapid development of the economies of the littoral states until the Asian “economic meltdown” of 1997–98 have caused the current problem of extreme shipping congestion through the...

    • 21 Twenty-first-Century Trade and Globalization: The Asia-Pacific region
      (pp. 213-223)

      Ideas and abstractions from chapters 3 and 4 are helpful in understanding the context of recent changes in the role of the Straits of Malacca and in forecasting future developments in this region. Concepts such as exchange complementarity and transferability of traded commodities, as well as intervening opportunities for trade in global, hemispheric, and local-regional milieux remain important. But the realities of political and economic change due to globalization, Asia-Pacific regionalism, and evolving state functions are bringing about new patterns of interaction that have implications for the future roles of the straits. This chapter will consider the broader political-economic and...

    • 22 Emerging Roles of the Straits in Global and Regional Commerce
      (pp. 224-230)

      Global waterborne commerce continues to increase steadily into the first decade of the twenty-first century. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which monitors the growth in merchant fleets, confirms that the total world tonnage grew slightly in 1999, following a decade in which merchant fleets expanded and modernized. Significantly from the point of view of merchant shipping in and around the Straits of Malacca Asian countries have increased their ownership of cargo shipping, from 108.5 million deadweight tonnes in 1998 to 112.2 million deadweight tonnes in 1999 (unctad, quoted in Economist 2001a, 108). The Asian fleets comprise a...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 231-234)

      This study has examined the factors that have made the Straits of Malacca a vitally important focal point in global commerce over many centuries. It has approached this complex subject from an interdisciplinary perspective, utilizing concepts from geography, economic anthropology, and political economy, to help illuminate the underlying reasons for the long-standing – and continuing – strategic and commercial significance of this perilous waterway.

      First, physical-geographic and economic-political factors have conspired to make the straits both a gateway and a choke-point in trade and communications between East and West. A combination of the huge archipelagic barrier across the route from the Indian...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-244)
  15. Index
    (pp. 245-250)