Historical Atlas
Asia Page
First posted on February 11th 2005, last revised on May 22nd 2012

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see also WHKMLA Historical Atlas, ASEAN, Brunei Cambodia, French Indochina, Indonesia, Laos, Malaya, Malaysia, Singapore, Straits Settlements, Vietnam Pages


The V.O.C. had succeeded in eliminating Portuguese competition from the Malay archipelago. It had established Batavia (modern Jakarta) as its regional capital. The Spanish had been able to hold on to the Philippines.

The V.O.C. lost Taiwan in 1662, faced English, Danish, French competition in Bengal, Malabar, China. It was able to maintain a monopolist position in the trade of Java and the Moluccas.
Cochinchina absorbed Champa.

Laos in 1707 split into the Kingdoms of Vienchan, Luang Prabang and Champassak.
Burma conquered Tenasserim from Siam (1760) and in 1767 the Burmese conquered the Siamese capital and ended the dynasty. The new Chakri Dynasty ousted the Burmese and restored Siam.
On Java, Mataram split; rivalry between the rulers of the successor states resulted in the V.O.C. extending her territory on the island.

The colonies in the region were declining; the Spanish Philippines were administratively a part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Once Mexico got independent in 1821, and the Philippines became a separate colony, communication with Spain took very long.
The V.O.C. suffered from her ships and cargo being confiscated when the Dutch Republic was at war with Britain (1780-1784, 1795-); by 1798 it went bankrupt and the Batavian Republic nationalized her assets, which became the Dutch East Indies. From 1811 to 1816 they came under British occupation.
Burma and Annam (Vietnam) continued a policy of military expansion. Burma annexed Arakan in 1786. Annam conquered the Mekong Delta. In 1802 Annam and Tonkin were united (Vietnam) under one dynasty.

The traditional colonial powers in the region (Netherlands, Portugal, Spain) were joined bt Britain, which acquired Penang in 1784, Singapore in 1819, Malacca in 1824, Arakan and Tenasserim in 1826, Lower Burma in 1852, Upper Burma in 1878. It established protectorates over the sultanates on the Malay Peninsula.
France established protectorates over Cambodia (1859) and what the French called Cochinchina (1863).
In 1824 and 1872 the Dutch and British agreed on mutual spheres of influence in South East Asia. The Dutch gradually expanded the area under their direct control (Dutch East Indies) within the limits set by the aforementioned agreements.

The British in 1826 formed the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca, Singapore), which in 1856 were detached from British India as a separate crown colony, while Arakan, Tenasserim, Lower and Upper Burma, as Burma, were part of British India.

Traditional states found it increasingly difficult to conduct political business as usual. A Siamese campaign to punish what they regarded illoyal tributaries on the Malay peninsula was terminated due to British diplomatic pressure in 1825.

The years 1880 to 1918 saw the continuation of colonial expansion in South East Asia. The Dutch continued to gradually expand the area under direct control (Dutch East Indies), a process which reached its conclusion with the conquest of Aceh in 1873-1908. France in 1883-1885 annexed Vietnam, and in 1895 Laos. In 1887 it formed her colonies of Cochinchina, Cambodia, Annam, Tonkin into French Indochina (later joined by Laos).
In 1907 Siam was coerced into ceding territory on the border to French Indochina, in 1909 dependent sultanates on the Malay peninsula to Britain. Hence, Siam functioned as a buffer state.
The colonial powers pursued a policy of centralization. In many cases, traditional polities were abolished. An exception forms the Malay peninsula, where the traditional sultanates, as British protectorates, continued to exist; there were a number of similar traditional monarchies lasting on as protectorates within Burma, French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies.
The transition from sailing ships to steamboats, the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) and the growing demand for raw materials in industrializing countries intensified the development of port cities such as Singapore, Batavia (Jakarta), Rangoon, Saigon and Manila. The tin mining industry on the Malay peninsula and on Biliton (Dutch East Indies) expanded, an oil industry emerged on Sumatra (Dutch East Indies), rubber plantations on the Malay peninsula came to dominate the world market for rubber.

The political landscape of South East Asia at the end of World War I was largely the result of a policy of centralization pursued by the colonial powers : the Netherlands had created the Dutch East Indies, France French Indochina; Britain had annexed Burma into British India, the U.S. had annexed the Sultanate of Sulu into the Philippines.
Siam had escaped colonial rule because of its role as a buffer state. It had undergone a policy of modernization and in 1932 underwent a constitutional reform renaming itself Thailand, the land of the free.
An exception to the rule of a colonial policy of centralization had been the Malay peninsula, where direct British rule was limited to the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca, Singapore) while the remaining Sultanates were organized into the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States (all British protectorates). Sarawak was another anomaly, a monarchy with a British dynasty.
South East Asia's geopolitical significance lay in the function of Singapore as a trade hub, in South East Asia's proiduction and export of tin, rubber and oil.
In 1937 Burma was separated from British India and made a separate crown colony.

Japanese troops were stationed in French Indochina in 1940 following an agreement with (Vichy-) France. In December 1941 Japan pursued to invade and occupy the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, North Borneo, Brunei, Sarawak, the Malay peninsula with Singapore, Burma and Portuguese Timor. Thailand was pressured into becoming a Japanese ally.
For Japan, South East Asia was of importance because of its resources (oil from Sumatra and Borneo, rice, rubber, tin etc.)

Anti-Japanese resistance was strongest in the Philippines and Burma.
South East Asia also was of importance to the Nationalist (Kuomintang) administration of China, seated in Chungking, because her supply lines ran through Southeast Asia : until 1940 through North Vietnam, from 1940 to 1942 through Burma, from 1942 to 1944 through the skies over Burma (Flying Tigers).

The United States already in 1934 had granted autonomy to the Philippines and promised to grant independence by 1944; Britain granted provincial autonomy in British India in 1935. By contrast, the French in Indochina and the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies pursued a policy of central colonial administration. World War II saw the colonial administration temporarily replaced by Japanese occupation. Japanese propaganda claimed to liberate South East Asia from colonial rule; the claim got a mixed reception.
Following World War II, the Philippines declared independence in 1946, India and Pakistan in 1947, Burma in 1948. The Dutch and French only withdrew after a military struggle; Indonesia declared independence in 1949, North and South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in 1954, the Federation of Malaya in 1957.
Remnants of colonialism remained (Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo, Brunei, Netherlands New Guinea, Portuguese Timor); colonialism ended by the Federation of Malaya extended to form Malaysia (1963), Netherlands New Guinea (1963) and Portuguese Timor (1975) being annexed by Indonesia.

Malaya went through the Emergency, a period in which Communist guerillas unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the political system; it was ended in 1960.
The French had withdrawn from Indochina by 1954, but the peace arrangement left the Viet Minh dissatisfied, as they had been given only North Vietnam. They organized/supported guerilla actions destabilizing the non-Communist regime in South Vietnam; with increasing U.S. involvement, this would gradually escalate into the Vietnam War.
In 1949 the Communists had won the Chinese Civil War and the People's Republic of China was declared. Remnant Kuomintang forces, from a base in eastern Burma and with support of the CIA, continued to conduct small-scale operations across the border into China's Yunnan province. They financed their operations by Opium cultivation.
Indonesia's president Sukarno dreamt of a greater Indonesia; he pursued the Konfrontasi policy which involved Indonesian guerillas crossing into neighbouring polities where they conducted guerilla activities.

Topical Map : Areas affected by Indonesia's Konfrontasi Policy


Indochina (North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) was engulfed in the Vietnam War, the most destructive war South East Asia ever experienced. In 1963 the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) merged to form Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore was ousted from Malaysia, became independent against its own will.
A 1965 coup d'etat in Indonesia ended the Konfrontasi policy.
In 1967, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia formed ASEAN, to enhance economic cooperation and development.
Burma since 1962 pursued a policy of isolationism and socialism.


The Vietnam War ended in 1975 with Vietnam being reunited under Communist rule and Communist regimes taking over in Cambodia and Laos. The Khmer Rouge Regime (allied to the PR China) in Cambodia pursued a xenophobic genocidal policy, to which Vietnam (allied to the USSR) in 1979 responded by invading Cambodia, ousting the Khmer Rouge (which returned to guerilla warfare) and installing a pro-Vietnamese government. The PR China responded by declaring war on Vietnam; Vietnam responded by ousting its ethnic Chinese minority (Boat People).
In 1975 Indonesia annexed hitherto Portuguese East Timor. In 1984 Brunei (hitherto British protectorate) declared independence, ending colonialism in South East Asia.


In 1991 a peace settlement for Cambodia was resigned; the country again became a monarchy in 1993.
ASEAN expansion : Brunei joined upon independence in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos in 1997, Cambodia in 1999.
In 1999 an Australian-led international force occupied East Timor (hitherto annexed by Indonesia). Timor Leste declared independence in 2002. As of 2012, Timor Leste is the only state in Southeast Asia not a member of ASEAN.

DOCUMENTS South East Asian War - Area Of Operations, maps posted on Jim's Vietnam Vet Homepage
Asia Maps, from PCL, UTexas, many on SE Asia
History of Southeast Asia, series of historical maps, 1st to 21st century, posted by Angkor Planet
REFERENCE HASEA : Jan M. Pluvier, Historical Atlas of South-East Asia, Leiden : Brill 1995

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