Southeast Asia is a large region of Asia that stretches from east of India and south of China. The region includes continental countries as well as island nations within several different seas. This divide actually makes up the two distinct geographical regions of Southeast Asia: Maritime and Mainland. The maritime nations include Singapore, Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, Cocos Islands, Christmas Island, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Mainland Southeast Asia is composed of Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, West Malaysia, and Vietnam. The mainland was originally referred to as Indochina. This article takes a look at the histories of these countries.
Most Populated Southeast Asian Nations
Indonesia is the largest of these countries, both in land area and population. This island, located between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is the world’s 4th most populated country and has a primarily Muslim population. Indonesia was an important stop along the spice route and the Dutch established the Dutch East India Company here in 1602. This company had nearly complete power on the island. When the company went bankrupt, the Netherlands then established the colony Dutch East Indies which was in power until World War II when the Japanese occupied the island. The Japanese rule resulted in over 4 million deaths as the indigenous people were forced into labor. This fact motivated the independence movement; when Japan surrendered in August of 1945, Sukarno became president.
The Philippines is the next heavily populated country with 101,649,000 people. It is located in the western Pacific Ocean and has over 7,000 islands. The Spanish arrived here in 1521 and promptly colonized the area. In 1565, the first Hispanic settlement was founded, and the Philippines remained under Spanish rule for 300 years. For this reason, the majority of the population practice the Catholic religion. During those 300 years, several European powers attempted to take control. Philippine revolutionary forces declared independence in 1898, but that was during the Spanish-American War and the same year that the Spanish relinquished power of the islands to the US. In 1935, the US government granted the Commonwealth status to the area in an attempt to transition its independence, but the Japanese invaded during World War II and took control until 1945 when they were defeated.
Vietnam has a population of 92,571,000 and is located on the mainland on the eastern side of the Indochina Peninsula. The Peninsula was colonized by the French in the mid-1800’s and later occupied by Japanese forces during World War II. The Japanese were expelled by Ally forces and an independence movement in 1954 beat off the French but left the country divided into North and South. The rival states were at war for 21 years with the North supported by communist China and the Soviet Union and in the 60’s, when the US stepped in to support the southern state. The war lasted until 1975 when the northern side won and the two states were merged.
Thailand, also in mainland Southeast Asia, has a population of 65,236,000. This nation is located in the middle of the Peninsula and shares borders with Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia. Thailand has a long history of Buddhist empires and kingdoms yet never fell under the rule of European colonists. It played a buffer role between Great Britain and France during their colonization of the surrounding areas. The Siam kingdom did, however, cede large areas to the two European powers. The nation took sides with Japan during World War II in an attempt to regain lost territory; by the end of the war, Thailand was a US ally.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is bordered by China, India, Bangladesh, Laos, and Thailand. This country was once the largest empire in Southeast Asia, but, became a British colony in the 19th century. Buddhist monks led an independence movement in the 1930’s and 1937, Myanmar became a separately administered colony with its own Prime Minister. The British administration failed during World War II when Japan made advances to the country. After a brief Japanese rule, Burma became independent in 1948.
Southeast Asia Today
Today, ten Southeast Asian countries belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional organization that promotes international peace and trade among its members. Founded on August 8, 1967, the organization has worked to create economic progress, social evolution, and political evolution. Its members include Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Vietnam. Member states and their representatives employ an informal, private, and non-conflictual method for resolving the conflict that allows their disagreements to stay out of the public eye. This system protects the nations against perceived disgraces that may need to be defended thus reducing conflict.