Between the 16th and 20th centuries, European powers attempted to control the rest of the world and all of its wealth. They were successful in controlling large parts of the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Some countries, however, were able to avoid colonization. This article takes a closer look at 10 of those countries.
10. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has been primarily ruled by tribal leaders from throughout the region. In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire rule gained control of the majority of Saudi Arabia, and remained in power until 1918. During this Empire, the Saudi royal family began fighting for control of the country. This political movement coincided with World War I when Britain was fighting against the Ottoman Empire. In order to weaken the Empire, Britain provided support for a pan-Arab revolt. At the end of the war, the Empire lost control of Saudi Arabia, leaving behind a united Arab state.
Both British and Russian forces were interested in controlling present-day Iran (then the Persian Empire). Russia was successful in capturing some of the northern areas of the Empire (present-day Turkmenistan, for example) in the 19th century. Likewise, British forces gained power in the eastern region of the Persian Empire, near present-day Pakistan. During this time, the vast majority of Iran was under rule by the Qajar Dynasty, which had borrowed money from European banks. Unable to repay, the British and Russian governments came to an agreement that they would control and share Persian revenues from various revenues. While the Persian Empire never agreed to this condition, it did prevent the country from being officially colonized.
Japan was also able to resist European colonization. Instead, its government established a strong influential presence in Taiwan, Korea, and South Sakhalin. The government was aware of the threat of Western invasion and in response, it initiated the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This social and political reform readied the country to successfully defeat Qing China during the First Sino-Japanese War. When Russia later attempted to invade, Japanese forces were ready and won the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. During WWII, the country took advantage to annex Korea and Manchuria, becoming a colonial power as well.
Rather than fall under European control, Korea was ruled by Asian powers. It was a tributary state of Qing China until 1895, when the Japanese government gained control after winning the First Sino-Japanese War. It became a formal Japanese colony in 1910, avoiding European colonization.
During the 19th century, present-day Thailand was known as the Kingdom of Siam. The Kingdom was located between the French-ruled Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) and British-ruled Burma (now called Myanmar). King Chulalongkorn of Siam worked to adopt several European customs and became interested in European technology in an attempt to prevent colonization. His diplomatic efforts helped the King influence the British-French relationship in his favor, preventing the majority of his kingdom from falling under European rule.
During the European attempt to control the world, the Chinese Empire was an extremely large force. It is often compared to the Ottoman Empire. Its size worked to its favor, making it an elusive target for colonization. Britain and France, rather than gain colonial rule, were able to gain some power over China through its imports and exports. Their status as favored nations grew during the First and Second Opium Wars from 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860. Seeing the benefit of being a favored nation, the US, Russia, and Italy wanted the same status. Rather than being colonized, the coastal areas of China were divided among Western powers, causing the Qing Dynasty to lose some, but not all, of its control.
Afghanistan, like the Persian Empire, caught the attention of both Great Britain and Russian forces. Being aware of this intention helped the Afghan military conquer the British army in the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839. Not so easily deterred, British forces once again attempted to take control of Afghanistan in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which lasted from 1878 to 1880. During this war, the Britains were able to negotiate control of the country’s foreign relations while Afghanistan retained domestic control.
From 1814 to 1816, Nepali military forces fought in the Anglo-Nepalese War. The British East India Co., however, had larger troops and was able to gain control of approximately 30% of the territory of Nepal. In this case, the geographic features of the country worked to its favor and the mountains impeded British passage. Unwilling to take on the rugged terrain, British forces left the rest of Nepal as an independent state, creating a border zone for British India. Additionally, the British army was impressed by the military ability of the Gurkha troops and recruited them for the colonial army.
Bhutan, like Nepal, is located in the Himalayan mountain range, which makes it a difficult terrain to invade. From 1772 to 1774, the British military fought and gained control of some insignificant areas of the Kingdom of Bhutan. This control gave them negotiating power, however. In exchange for removal of British troops, the Kingdom of Bhutan agreed to pay them 5 horses and to give them control of its logging industry. Despite this arrangement, the two countries were in constant border disagreements until 1947, when India gained its independence and British forces withdrew from the area.
Ethiopia managed to remain uncolonized by Europeans between 1880 and 1914, when European powers competed to invade and colonize the African continent. By the end of the invasion period, roughly 90% of Africa was colonized by European nations. In 1867, King Tewodros wrote a correspondence to Queen Victoria of England, who never responded. Angered, King Tewodros imprisoned several British subjects in 1868, refusing to release them. British forces invaded in a failed attempt to overthrow the King. In 1888, Italian forces arrived, but negotiated with Ethiopia, only taking over Eritrea. Ethiopia managed to defeat the Italian army in the First Italo-Ethiopian War of 1896. In 1935, Italian forces under Mussolini again invaded and, this time, occupied Ethiopia and overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie. Emperor Selassie regained control at the end of World War II in 1941 and annexed the Italian colony of Eritrea in 1943.