Colonialism appeared on the political horizon of the globe when European nations like Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and Holland build their empires over Asia, Africa and Latin America. The European powers exploited the resources of what came to be known as the third world countries and subjugated their people for about four centuries by their colonial and imperialist policies. The exploitation inevitably provoked its own contradictions in the form of national liberation and democratic movements. During the inter-war period (1919-1939) the colonies questioned the right of the colonizer to colonize and oppress the people of the third world. The process of decolonization was accelerated with the end of Second World War and the establishment of the United Nations.
Although the general framework of colonial policies was economic exploitation and political subjugation, each colonial power followed specific policies in respect of their colonies. Likewise, while nationalist movements arose in almost all the colonies, the patterns of their struggle varied. Some colonies attained independence through constitutional means, while in some others, nationalism, attained a militant form. Some nationalist movements worked within the liberal democratic framework, some others adopted the Marxist ideology as their guiding philosophy. Post colonial political processes also varied according to the ideologies and nature of national liberation movements in the respective countries.
Even before the Second World War, modem nationalism clocked as anti-imperialist movements arose in different colonies. It was a sense of identification with and pride in the nation state, as well as also the quest for power and national self-fulfillment. The birth of national organization in different colonies consolidated the national movements for independence. The psychological origins of nationalism are to be found in the fact that the introduction of European authority and culture disrupted the traditional life and institutions of the colonies. Those natives (as they were called by the white man) who received western education and were alienated from their own traditional milieu were never really treated as equals of the white man. It was among these elements that one finds the first signs of nationalist revolt. The superior economic and social status of the Europeans provoked a sense of revolt among the western educated elites of colonies. It is these ‘elites’ who first raised the banner of revolt and provided the leadership in the nationalist movements in the colonies.
Nationalistic movements in Asia are similar to those in Europe.  The goals of autonomy and self-rule are the same.  Circumstances that led to the unification or the division of a place are alike.  The catalysts for nationalism are, however, slightly different.  Both are based on the corruption or ineffectiveness of a government on its subjects, but the sources are different.  European abuse of power came from within (French kings over French people or disunity in Germany are examples).  Asian nationalistic movements for independence are a direct reaction to imperialism.  European nations were in a period of imperialization, or the taking over of another country for political, social, and/or economic gain.  In this case, the Asian countries of China, Vietnam, and India had experienced long periods of imperialism at the hands of European authorities.  As imperialism progressed, nationalistic movements rose up in an attempt to throw out foreign influence and gain independence. 
(Regents Prep: Global History: Nationalism at
European powers moved into Southeast Asia and established colonies beginning in the 1500s. During the next few hundred years, the European countries took control of trade and influenced much of Asian history. While some colonies were overturned over time, the majority gained their independence following World War II due to Japanese invasion. The way these colonies achieved independence from the European powers was vastly different from nation to nation.
• The Philippines were a colony of Spain from the late 1500s until 1898. While the Filipino revolutionary forces fought against Spanish oppression, the U.S. successfully took control. After years of insurgency, the U.S. granted independence to the Philippines in 1946.
• The Dutch East India Company established Indonesia as a trading colony in 1605. It maintained control until the Japanese invasion in World War II. Following Japan’s defeat in 1945, Indonesia set up its own republic.
• Burma was conquered in 1824 by the British, who made it a province of India. In the 1930s, the colony separated from India and eventually negotiated its independence in 1948.
• French troops took control of Vietnam in 1858 and completed its conquest of Laos and Cambodia in 1907. Following World War II, the French returned to the colony to reclaim its territory. A protracted war followed that lasted until 1954, when the Geneva Conference declared Vietnam’s independence.
• Since the late 1700s, the British controlled much of the area of Malaysia. Eventually, the Malay States gained independence through negotiation in 1957. In 1965, Singapore was asked to leave the federation, forming its own city-state.
(How Colonies in Southeast Asia Achieved Independence in Different Ways By Jason Chavis, eHow Contributor at
Between 1945 and 1960, three dozen new states in Asia and Africa achieved autonomy or outright independence from their European colonial rulers.
There was no one process of decolonization. In some areas, it was peaceful, and orderly. In many others, independence was achieved only after a protracted revolution. A few newly independent countries acquired stable governments almost immediately; others were ruled by dictators or military juntas for decades, or endured long civil wars. Some European governments welcomed a new relationship with their former colonies; others contested decolonization militarily. The process of decolonization coincided with the new Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, and with the early development of the new United Nations. Decolonization was often affected by superpower competition, and had a definite impact on the evolution of that competition. It also significantly changed the pattern of international relations in a more general sense
The creation of so many new countries, some of which occupied strategic locations, others of which possessed significant natural resources, and most of which were desperately poor, altered the composition of the United Nations and political complexity of every region of the globe. In the mid to late 19th century, the European powers colonized much of Africa and Southeast Asia. During the decades of imperialism, the industrializing powers of Europe viewed the African and Asian continents as reservoirs of raw materials, labor, and territory for future settlement. In most cases, however, significant development and European settlement in these colonies was sporadic. However, the colonies were exploited, sometimes brutally, for natural and labor resources, and sometimes even for military conscripts. In addition, the introduction of colonial rule drew arbitrary natural boundaries where none had existed before, dividing ethnic and linguistic groups and natural features, and laying the foundation for the creation of numerous states lacking geographic, linguistic, ethnic, or political affinity.
(Decolonization of Asia and Africa 1945-1960, US DEPARTMENT OF STATE, OFFICE of the HISTORIAN at
Shaken by the events of twentieth-century colonialism, leaders in Asia and Africa began to reevaluate what needed to be kept from their own cultures and what accommodations with the West needed to be made. Reinvigoration of traditional beliefs and political structures was critical to the process of decolonization. The beginnings of decolonization lay in the development of Western-educated middle classes in colonized Africa and Asia. Relying on primarily peaceful means, indigenous leaders expelled colonial regimes. World War I served to sufficiently weaken the Western colonialists so that anti colonialist movements became possible. World War II crushed the ability of the European powers to maintain the colonial structure.
(World Civilizations Online Chapter 39 — Chapter 39 Outline by Addison Wesley Longman, A division of Pearson Education)
At the end of World War II, colonized people all over the world agitated for independence. As it had in India, Britain gave up control of its Southeast Asian colonies; it gave up Burma quickly and Malaysia after some delay. Some imperialists, the Dutch among them, were reluctant to give up their Southeast Asian possessions. They waged bitter and losing battles to retain control. The United States gave up its Asian colony in the Philippines soon after World War II.
During World War II, the Japanese conquered the Malay Peninsula, formerly ruled by the British. The British returned to the peninsula after the Japanese defeat in 1945. They tried, unsuccessfully, to organize Malaya into one state. They also struggled to put down a Communist uprising. Ethnic groups resisted British efforts to unite their colonies on the peninsula and in the northern part of the island of Borneo. Malays were a slight majority on the peninsula, while Chinese were the largest group in Singapore. In 1957, the Federation of Malaysia was created from Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak, and Sabah. The two regions—on the Malay Peninsula and on northern Borneo—were separated by 400 miles of ocean. In 1965, Singapore separated from the federation and became an independent city-state. The Federation of Malaysia—consisting of Malaya, Sarawak, and Sabah—was created. A coalition of many ethnic groups maintained steady economic progress in Malaysia.
Singapore, extremely prosperous, was one of the busiest ports in the world. Lee Kuan Yew ruled Singapore as prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Under his guidance, Singapore emerged as a banking center as well as a trade center. It had a standard of living far higher than any of its Southeast Asian neighbors. In early 1997, the Geneva World Economic Forum listed the world’s most competitive economies. Singapore topped the list. It was followed, in order, by Hong Kong, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain.
(The Colonies Become New Nations at
The origins of the contemporary political structures of Southeast Asia, and many of the problems that have subsequently confronted them, can be traced to the colonial powers’ intrusion into, and subsequent withdrawal from, Southeast Asia over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The expansion of the states system from Europe throughout the rest of the world not only generated an overarching  institutional infrastructure into which the freshly minted states of postcolonial Asia would subsequently aspire to fit, but also profoundly influenced the domestic shape of these states. The development of domestic bureaucracies, the scope and style of government and the increasing centralization of power all reflected the influence of European organizational practices. And yet, when many of the European colonial powers were finally expelled from the region in the aftermath of the Second World War, the newly independent governments found themselves confronting profound challenges of nation building and economic development.
The idea that the East Asian region would collectively make steady progress towards increasingly sophisticated forms of industrial production underpinned some of the most powerful ideas about the region and the concomitant prospects for an ‘Asian century’. Among a number of influential—mainly Japanese— economists, this idea was captured in the metaphor of the ‘flying geese’, in which Japan pioneered the Asian route to industrial development and pulled along the other regional economies in its wake. The reality has been very different.
Plainly, there were problems associated with the ‘minister’s nephew’ syndrome, in which political connections were often more important than economic credibility in accessing foreign funds from domestic financial intermediaries with little regulatory oversight. Yet the existence of ‘crony capitalism’ and the possible distortion of market forces is not a sufficient explanation of the region’s problems.
(Southeast Asia and the politics of vulnerability by MARK BEESON, Third World Quarterly, Vol 23, No 3, pp 549-564, 2002)


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