South East Asia – II World War and its impact on Southeast Asia

South East Asia

The term Southeast Asia was used since the World War II. Its normally refer to the region south of China and east of India.

Countries of South East Asia

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.

Post World War II

Post World War II was a period of decolonization It was a period where the European empirical powers had to pull out from the nations in the region. The view not only because of the embarrassments of defeat by the Japanese but also due to pressures by the USA as stated in the Atlantic Charter of 1943. In the charter, the United States vehemently asked for the independence of all colonized countries in any part of the world.

End of Colonialism

In other words, colonial period no longer suits the world political system. Major Powers such as Britain, French and the Dutch had to prepare a plan towards self-government for their colonies.
With the rejuvenated nationalist movements in wait, the Europeans returned to a very different Southeast Asia after World War II.

Independence to countries

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.

Change of world politics

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.

Beginning of Cold war

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.

Power Blocks concentrated on South East Asia

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 inability of these colonies on defending themselves 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.

Vietnam War

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.


South East Asia 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.