Decolonisation of Asia

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 17, 2022, 10:20

World War II was the turning point for all the European colonies in Asia. Only after 1945 did the colonies start to rise in protest through various independence movements. The Decolonisation of Asia was not sudden but gradual, which eventually led to the dismantling of colonial regimes and the retreat of foreign powers.

Both colonization and decolonization in Asia are fraught with violent and traumatic incidents. The European nations saw Asian continents as a wealth of labour, land, and raw material. The inhabitants of these colonies were brutally exploited and left with no sense of identity. Hence, when the Decolonisation of Asia began between 1945 to 1960, the natives fought hard, and as a result, many states in Asia achieved independence from European colonizers.

Background of Decolonisation of Asia

At the turn of the 16th century, European nations began taking over Asia. When Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India in May 1498, the number of European explorers and colonizers coming to Asia began to increase. Soon, the Portuguese powers established a permanent base of operations in Malacca in 1511 and Spain in 1565 and captured the Philippines in 1565. However, at the beginning of the 17th century, the Portuguese and Spanish colonies declined due to political and social disruptions back home. Soon, the British, French, and Dutch began to take over Asian colonies.

By the mid-19th century, the Britishers had occupied almost all the states of India via the East India Company. Simultaneously, they also colonized Burma, Malaya, and Singapore. Unlike the British colonies, the French had little success in Asia and could only take over Pondicherry and Male. They had a few other profitable colonies further in the east, around modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Furthermore, during the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States of America took over the Philippines as its only colony.

During WWII, Japan singlehandedly dismantled European colonies and drove them out of Asia. In response, around 1945, several local nationalist movements grew in various Asian colonies as they refused to surrender to Japanese forces just after they got rid of the Europeans. In Indonesia and French Indochina, nationalist guerrillas who were former members of European colonial military establishments fought against Japan.

Often these independence movements wanting decolonisation of Asia appealed to the US for governmental support. Although the US government could not provide enough support, they encouraged European imperial powers to withdraw from their Asian colonies as they had strong ties with them. Along with other European colonies retreating, the US also granted independence to the Philippines in 1946.

Major Asian Colonies from 17th Century to the End of WWII

Major Asian Colonies from 17th Century to end of WWII

Country

Colonial Power

Date of Independence

Philippines

Spain

June 12, 1898

Philippines

United States

July 4, 1946

Indonesia

Netherlands

August 17, 1945

Indonesia

Japan

December 27, 1949

Vietnam

France, Japan

September 2, 1945

South Korea

Empire of Japan

August 15, 1945

North Korea

Empire of Japan

August 15, 1945

Pakistan

British Empire

August 14, 1947

India

British Empire

August 14, 1947

Bangladesh (Part of Pakistan)

British Empire

August 14, 1947

Myanmar

British Empire

January 4, 1948

Sri Lanka

British Empire

February 4, 1948

Malaysia

British Empire

August 31, 1957

Kuwait

British Empire

June 19, 1961

Maldives

British Empire

July 26, 1965

Hong Kong

British Empire

July 1, 1997

Macau

Portugal

December 20, 1999

Cambodia

France

November 9, 1953

Laos

France

October 22, 1953

The New Nations

The new nations that emerged after the Decolonisation of Asia became an important factor in changing the power structures within the United Nations. The UN, which was earlier dominated by the colonial powers, now had new ‘third world’ countries as part of it.

The new nations had a few characteristics in common, all of them were ‘non-white’ and had developing economies. As a result of the past relationships of these new nations with the European countries, they were often at odds with them. As a vocal head of Decolonisation of Asia, the UN often held councils on issues of self-governance to help these now independent and developing nations.

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FAQs on Decolonisation of Asia

Q.1. During the Decolonisation of Asia, when did Myanmar gain independence from the British Empire?

During the Decolonisation of Asia, Myanmar gained independence from the British Empire on January 4, 1948.

Q.2. Did India become a part of the United Nations after the Decolonisation of Asia?

After the Decolonisation of Asia, India has been a full member of the United Nations since October 30, 1945.

Q.3. What is decolonisation?

Decolonization is the process of a powerful state withdrawing its control from a former colony, leaving its citizens independent and free.

Q.4. Are there any countries in Asia that were never colonized?

There are a few countries that were never colonized in Asia, like Thailand, China, Nepal, and Bhutan.