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Decolonisation of Asia

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The decolonization of Asia was the gradual growth of independence movements in Asia, leading ultimately to the retreat of foreign powers and the creation of a number of nation-states in the region. A number of events were catalysts for this shift, most importantly the Second World War. Prior to World War II, some countries (e.g. the Philippines in 1898) had already proclaimed independence.



European powers began colonizing Asia in the early 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese seizure of sites along the west coast of India, Ceylon and Malacca. In 1511, Portugal established a permanent base in Malacca. In 1565, Spain commenced its colonization of the Philippine Islands, creating a long sea trade route via Mexico to Spain.

The decline of Spain and Portugal in the 17th century paved the way for other European powers, namely the Netherlands, France and England. Portugal would lose influence in all but three of its colonies, Portuguese India, Macau and Timor.

By the end of the 17th century, the Dutch had taken over much of the old Portuguese colonies, and had established a strong presence in present-day Indonesia, with colonies in Aceh, Bantam, Makassar and Jakarta. The Dutch also had trade links with Siam, Japan, China and Bengal.

The British had competed with Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch for their interests in Asia since the early 17th century, and by the mid-19th century held much of India (via the British East India Company), as well as Burma, Ceylon, Malaya and Singapore. After India's First War of Independence of 1857, Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India, thus solidifying the British rule on the subcontinent. The last British acquisition in Asia was the New Territories of Hong Kong, which was leased from the Qing emperor in 1897, expanding the British colony originally ceded in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842.

The French had little success in India following defeats against the British in the 17th century, though they held onto possessions on the east coast of India (such as Pondicherry and Mahar) until decolonisation. The French established their most lucrative and substantial colony in Indochina from 1862, eventually occupying the present-day areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia by 1887.

Japan's first colony was the island of Taiwan, occupied in 1874 and officially ceded by the Qing emperor in 1894. Japan continued its early imperialism with the annexation of Korea in 1910.

The United States entered the region in 1898 during the Spanish–American War, taking the Philippines as its sole colony through a mock battle in the capital and the purchase of the Philippines from Spain after the declaration of independence and the First Philippine Republic.

Asian colonies from the 19th century to the end of the Second World War

The following list shows the colonial powers following the end of World War II in 1945, their colonial or administrative possessions, and date of decolonization.


See Burma's colonial era.

Burma was almost completely occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War. Many Burmese fought alongside Japan in the initial stages of the war, though the Burmese Army and most Burmese switched sides in 1945.

A transitional government sponsored by the British government was formed in the years following the Second World War, ultimately leading to Burma's independence in January 1948.


See Cambodia's passage to independence.

Following the capitulation of France and the formation of the Vichy regime, France's Indochinese possessions were given to Japan. While there was some argument that Indochina should not be returned to France, particularly from the United States, Cambodia nevertheless remained under French rule after the end of hostilities.

France had placed Norodom Sihanouk on the throne in 1941, and were hoping for a puppet monarch. They were mistaken however, as the King led the way to Cambodian independence in 1953, taking advantage of the background of the First Indochina War being fought in Vietnam.


See Ceylon and independence.

Ceylon was an important base of operations for the Western Allies during the Second World War. The British gave in to popular pressure for independence and in February 1948, the country won its independence as the Dominion of Ceylon.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was returned to the United Kingdom following its occupation by the Japanese during the Second World War. It was controlled directly by a British governor until the expiry of the hundred-year lease, which occurred in 1997. From that date the territory was controlled as a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.


The Philippines unilaterally declared independence from Spain on 12 June 1898 under the leadership of President Emilio Aguinaldo, culminating the 1896 Revolution. Unbeknownst to the newly established government and the Filipino people in general, the United States of America had secretly arranged to purchase the colony along with several other possessions from Spain through the Treaty of Paris that concluded the Spanish–American War. After staging a mock battle in Manila, the Philippine–American War ensued until the Philippine government capitulated in 1902.

The Philippines subsequently underwent successive stages of rule under the United States, first as an unincorporated territory, then as a Commonwealth. It was then occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War and, after the Allied victory in 1945, granted full independence by the United States on 4 July 1946.


The "colonial power" and "colonial name" columns are merged when required to denote territories, where current countries are established, that have not been de-colonised, but achieved independence in different ways.


Decolonisation of Asia Wikipedia

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