PRESENTED at the 21st Malaysia-Indonesia Private Universities Conference 2009 & The 2nd World Conference of International Entrepreneur &Family Business Association 2009
29th & 30th October 2009
POST WORLD WAR II & ITS IMPACT TOWARDS SOUTHEAST ASIA AS A REGION 1946-1970
HAMDAN DATO’ MOHD. SALLEH
This paper concentrates on the specific era of Southeast Asian political development in the context of regional issues from 1946-1970. The post World War II era is vital to Southeast Asian countries as it marked the beginning of Decolonization. The paper will explain the aspect of regional organization, the issues during post World War II well as effects towards Southeast Asian nations in particular from regional point of view.
"To understand the present and anticipate the future, one must know enough of the past, enough to have a sense of the history of a people." -- Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore
The term Southeast Asia was used since the World War II. Its normally refer to the region south of China and east of India. The countries includes Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. With the exception of Thailand, these countries were gradually colonized by the Europeans as early as 16th century. Following World War II, these colonial areas gradually achieved independence. Strategically significant, the region was the centre of heavy fighting during World War II. Conflicts were also repeated in the post-World War II which consists of wars of independence, communist insurgencies as well as the dreaded Vietnam War.
With the rejuvenated nationalist movements in wait, the Europeans returned to a very different Southeast Asia after World War II. Indonesia declared independence in 17 August 1945 and subsequently fought a bitter war against the returning Dutch; the Philippines were granted independence in 1946 after a bloody war with the United States; Burma secured their independence from Britain in 1948, and the French were driven from Indochina in 1954 after a bitterly fought war against the Vietnamese nationalists. The newly-established United Nations provided a forum both for nationalist demands and for the newly demanded independent nations.
Decolonization brings along new plans and creates new situations for all concerned. The British for instance, are planning to unite its colonies to a bigger unit. They felt that it is not viable to give independent to various small states such as the Malay Peninsular where the British had to separately deal with the Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States the Straits Settlements / Crown Colonies and the Johore Sultanate. In order to avoid the bureaucratic headaches, the British formed what they termed as Malayan Union in 1946. They believed that Malayan Union will unit all states concerned as well as Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak.
The end of World War II also marked the rapid changes of world’s politics. The centre of power no longer concentrated in Europe. Emerge new super powers, the USA and the USSR. It also marked the transformation of ideas from colonialism and European dominations to a new term called Ideological Warfare. It was based on rivalries between two new blocs. One bloc firmly believed on the concept of democratic-based capitalist system and the other believed on dominating the world via socialist idealism. The socialist bloc had launched a World Revolution with the intention to change the world system into a socialist based world. The rivalries had created tensions between the two super powers who used to be allies during the World War II.
The year 1946 marked a new type of war. War no longer based purely on direct conflicts. The new kind of war now involves ideological warfare. This new era marked the end of colonialism and the beginning of the Cold War which directly involved the Southeast Asian region. Both blocs aim at the whole world as their targets and this includes Southeast Asia. The US bloc believed on saving Southeast Asia from socialism and its negative influences. On the other hand, the socialists of USSR actively spread their ideology in the region. These developments directly affect the decolonization process. The colonial powers had to review their plan of giving independent to their colonies. The main concerned were with regards to the inability of these colonies on defending themselves from communist ideologies. The colonial powers had to provide security and military covers to the region which at the end resulted to the formation of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967 as the associations was regarded as the main catalyst on war against communism. It can be said that regional organization at that time came from western plan to prevent the spread of communism and socialism in the Southeast Asia.
Apart from the two conflicting blocs, the period also witnessed the emergence an alternative bloc for developing countries. The Non-Align Movement (NAM) was formed by the Asian and Afro-Asian countries with the intention of non-involvement in the Cold War. The concept of non-sided in the Cold War affects Southeast Asia especially when the NAM Conference of 1955 was held in Bandung, Indonesia during the Sukarno presidency.
However, the threat of communism was more visible with the following the success of communist in China in 1949. The victory directly affected the Chinese community in Southeast Asia. Mao Tze Dong, the Chinese supreme leader had made a law which affected millions of overseas Chinese. Mao issued an ultimatum, return to China or to remain at the migrated country and no longer be considered as the people of China. The ultimatum creates dilemma for overseas Chinese and most of them decided to remain at their migrated countries. Thus, the Chinese of Southeast Asia began to strengthen the socio-economic status especially in Malaya, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. In other words, it can be said that the Chinese in the region had only started to strengthen their economy after the Mao’s ultimatum in 1949. They decided to remain in the region and make the country that they migrated as their home country.
Another point to be considered was the china communist stance towards World Revolution that has been the basic ideology of communist socialists in the world. As China is an Asian country and located next to the Southeast Asian region, it was viewed as more dangerous than USSR by the Western bloc. Securities in Southeast Asia were at risk when China creates a clear foreign policy that supports the communist revolution in Southeast Asia. China seems to endorse the movement of internal revolution by communist parties in Southeast Asia. This policy led to a form of physical support, military, ideological and other assistance to the communists in Southeast Asia. In fact, communist parties have emerged in Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines. China began to provide direct contact with the communist parties in the region and encourage the armed movements. This policy has become a successful policy with success in communist North Vietnam defeated the French army in 1954 and subsequently became the first communist republic in Southeast Asia. In the same development, North Korea also became a communist in the 1950s.
This has sparked concern to the newly independent countries in the region. Most countries still wondered on the orientation to be chosen to develop their countries. The March of Communism is a major problem in Southeast Asia during that period. For example, the British Malaya had to face a communist guerrilla war from 1948 to 1960 where the British had to declare emergency and bring in the Commonwealth armies. In Indonesia, the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) emerged as one of the most popular parties in Indonesia. Communists began its foothold in several Southeast Asian countries and these caused regional tensions. This also creates a sense of insecurity in the areas that has not been influenced by communist ideology and movement.
The collapsed of Vietnam also creates the infamous Domino Theory. It is an assumption that countries in Southeast Asia would fall one by one into the hands of communist if there is no policy to stop the revolution. The West, especially USA and Britain as well as power allies Australia and New Zealand began implementing a policy called Containment Policy as a bulwark to contain communist influence. This policy initiated by the USA by signing military agreements with the Philippines, Thailand and South Vietnam. USA also opens naval bases in these countries in an effort to support countries that are considered ‘democratic’ in the region.
The methods of military agreement were practiced by both blocs. These have been done for the purpose to avoid direct conflict and a possible nuclear war between the blocs. The term used was Proxy War. Proxy War is a war where the usage of allied powers in a smaller battlefields. USA tries to block communist influence in Southeast Asia by supporting the government of a small field before. For example, USA's backed South Korea deals with the communists of North Korea. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, USA assisted South Vietnam against the USSR's backed North Vietnam.
The year 1961 witnessed the beginning of the Containment Policy which was launched by the Western powers to contain the communist influence. Among methods used was the establishment of non-communist block. This effort began with the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA). This organization is made up of Thailand, Malaya and the Philippines. Although ASA did not succeed, it is considered a catalyst to the establishment of ASEAN. It failed because the decolonisation plan and the communist threat led to tensions even among the anti-communist block itself especially the tense relations between Malaysia and the Philippines between the years 1961 to 1965.
In the meantime, the British gave independence to Malaya but still have Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Brunei. The British planned to grant independence to all four states. However, the increasingly powerful communist threat forced the British to change to a new strategy. Communism is now very influential in Sarawak and Singapore. Brunei also saw the People of Brunei Party leader, A.M. Azhari was closely linked with the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). If the British give independence to Brunei, there is the possibility that Brunei will fall into the hands of communists.
Thus, the British had to create a new scheme in the form of the old idea called Federation Malaysia or Gagasan Malaysia. In fact it was first mentioned by Lord Brassey as early as 1887. Malaya was regarded as a country that has an excellent record in dealing with communists. The British also want to protect their investments in the region that will be destroyed if the communist managed to control of these states. Combination of these states will fend off the attack and put great pressure to the communist total.
However, the notion of Malaysia has been considered by Sukarno as a new form of colonialism. Merger of Sabah, Sarawak and Indonesia Brunei will surely affects the expansion and growth of Indonesia. It will also marked the end of Greater Indonesia or Indonesia Raya which initiated by Sukarno. In other words, Malaysia is an anti-thesis to Sukarno’s ambitions.
Sukarno had a close relationship with China and related to the communist in Indonesia. Sukarno was forced to balance the two parties competing the status-quo, the military (ABRI) and the PKI. When Malaysia was proposed, it will dampen Sukarno’s ideological plans. This makes Indonesia began to start aggressive actions against Malaysia which resulted the confrontation in 1963.
The Philippines also view the formation of Malaysia as the real threat on its claim of Sabah. This causes conflict between the Philippines and Malaya. At the time, the West tried to prevent an influx of communists through the existence of these countries. At the same time, the process of building these nations creates the spirit of nationalism thus resulted the rivalries. Tension between the two countries lasted until 1965.
The year 1969 witnessed the changes in the USA’s policy. When President Richard Nixon came to power, he has introduced a policy called Détente. It is a softer policy towards the communist countries. However, the policy does not cover the relationship between the USA-USSR which remained cold. Detente Policy is only focused on countries such as China.
However, interesting questions arise. Why China? USA and NATO considered strategies dividing the block of USSR-China relations are better than to continue to break the two major communist countries is. USA considers that their position will be stronger if they can have a good relationship with China. Furthermore, the USSR-China relationship can be exploited with a good strategy to undermine communist power. Tensions USSR-China relations will provide a golden opportunity to USA to further weaken the communist powers.
Nixon has started 2 important policies:
i) The doctrine of Guam in 1969
ii) Rapprochement with China in 1972
Through the doctrine of Guam, USA will withdraw its forces from Vietnam and South Korea. The doctrine initiated the policy of ‘Fight Your Own War' where both countries must now defend themselves. It is a policy used by Nixon to show that the USA began implementing softer policies towards the communist countries in Asia. As a result, South Vietnam was defeated by the communist North in 1975 after the withdrawal of USA troops. The Rapprochement policy with China began when Nixon historically became the first president of USA make official visit to China. It is an important moment in the history of international politics that also directly affected Southeast Asia.
The 70s era witnessed 2 major problems occurred in the region. Firstly, peaceful and stable conditions in the non-communist countries. Secondly, tensions between communist and non communist countries. It remains the case even though USA has changed the policy towards China. The situation became tense with the invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese army in 1978. Previously, the year 1970-71 was a transition period because the war in Vietnam had reached its end.
USA began to develop warmer relations with China. Detente witnessed a period of friendship and marks the end of cold war. But in the aspect of Southeast Asia, tense relationships between the two blocs are still in existence and in fact worsen. The Non-communist countries were clearly worried that the USA's policy to withdraw from Southeast Asia will affects their securities and stabilities. USA and China’s closer relationship meant that USA will leave a region that will e threatened by other powers because of the vacuum left by the super power.
As a response, the members of ASEAN held a summit in Kuala Lumpur in 1971. The summit marked the birth of a declaration aptly named the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN). They urged major powers such as USA, USSR and China not to make a presence in the region as their rivalries will creates instabilities. ZOPFAN idea is based on the desire to make Southeast Asia a region of peace and harmony. However, it is merely a declaration and not a law that must be complied with. This is a significant weakness of ZOPFAN where member countries have the right not to comply with the policy. However, ASEAN became a strong block after several events that occurred in 1975 especially events such as:
i) Fall of Saigon to communist.
ii) The success of the communist’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
iii) The success of Pathet Lao in Laos.
The Fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam in April 1975 was the catalyst for the creation of communist Indochina. The success of the communist North Vietnam had ended a regime that considered 'democratic' by the USA. This victory also fulfilled the dreams of Ho Chi Minh to unify Vietnam. There were also issues regarding the success of the unified Vietnam. At that time, it is regarded as a success of the communist party. However, if we viewed from the angle of current perspective, it can also be regarded as a success of nationalist fighters who want to unify Vietnam. Historians on the other hand viewed that it’s a success of the communist against democracy. It should be also noted that the Domino Theory begins with the fall of Saigon.
The success of the communists’ Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the same year further strengthens the theory. Pol Pot took over Cambodia and the subsequent reign ended the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk. Effects of Pol Pot rule can be seen to this day Cambodia where millions of people killed and imprisoned. The regime almost destroyed Cambodia. Meanwhile, the Pathet Lao in Laos took over power in the country. The success meant that whole area in Indochina were in the hands of the communists. Successes in the communist Indochina started to worry ASEAN member countries. As a response, ASEAN held a summit in Bali, Indonesia in 1976. This resulted the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. The main principles of this agreement are to respect the sovereignty of a communist country and appealed to other countries not to challenged non-communist sovereignty It is in line with international political system that respects the sovereignty of any independent country. This Agreement in other words, tries to maintain the safety and independence of member countries of ASEAN via diplomatic means.
Situations in the region gradually changed when the communist bloc started to disintegrate. It was obvious that it’s clearly effects the unity of Southeast Asia. The communists had to choose between the USSR and China. Vietnam which was more nationalistic found China as a threat rather than associate. There are several reasons why Vietnam came to the conclusion. First, historically China and Vietnam were sworn enemies for centuries. Secondly, China and Vietnam share borders. Vietnam views USSR as its ally as the USSR have no reason whatsoever to be conflicting with Vietnam. As a result, Vietnam has become a close ally with the USSR. The conflicts between USSR-China and Vietnam-China led to a policy called 'encirclement'. This policy clearly indicates that the USA and the USSR agreed to reduce China’s influence which was considered aggressive. It leads to direct competition of China and the USSR in Southeast Asia. In an effort to eliminate the influence of China in the region, Vietnam has taken several drastic actions.
One of the actions was the invasion of Cambodia. The Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia with the intention to stop the genocides of Khmer Rouge. The invasion angered China and resulted border wars between the two countries. However, the Chinese army failed to defeat the Vietnamese thus strengthened the influence of USSR’s backed Vietnam. At the same time, USA had already withdrawn its troops from Thailand which enables the USSR to make a presence especially in the Gulf of Chamrong.
However, two different opinions emerged from the invasion. An ASEAN view was that the invasion violated the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. The ASEAN’s view was supported by the Western bloc. In contrast, the second opinion was that the invasion is merely an act of humanitarian aids based on the genocides and suppressions as well as sufferings faced by Cambodians under the Pol Pot’s regime. The second view will in the next decade be the uniting factor that fosters the cooperation between the communist and non-communists countries in the region.
The years 1946-1970 witnessed the era of political change in the world and Southeast Asia directly involved. USA involvement in the Vietnam War brought an unexpected effect on them. Although the USA was victorious in the Second World War, they were clearly beaten in the Vietnam War where they were forced to withdraw in 1969.
During the Cold War, countering the threat of communism was a major theme in the decolonisation process. After suppressing the communist insurrection during the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960, Britain granted independence to Malaya and later, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak in 1957 and 1963 respectively within the framework of the Federation of Malaysia. The United States intervention against communist forces in Indochina during a conflict commonly referred to in the United States as the Vietnam War meant that Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia had to go through a prolonged and protracted war in their route to independence. Although there are still differences between the non-communists and communist countries, they manage to gradually cooperate for the betterment of the region. ASEAN comprises initially by non-communist countries, have received national-socialist and communist countries as members.
The region had progressed so much since the conflict ridden era of post World War II period. Presently, modern Southeast Asia has been marked by high economic growth by most countries and closer regional integration. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have traditionally experienced high growth and are commonly recognized as the more developed countries of the region. As of late, Vietnam too had been experiencing an economic boom. However, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and the newly independent East Timor are still lagging economically. This is where ASEAN must play the role especially to achieve the ASEAN Vision of 2020.
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