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History of Southeas Asia
Southeast Asia is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and for a reason. Some of the countries here have it all: a tropical climate, warm (or hot!) all year around, rich culture, gorgeous beaches, wonderful food and last but not least, low prices. While its history and modern-day politics are complex, most of it is also quite safe for the traveller and easy to travel around in.
Pre-historic Southeast Asia was largely underpopulated. A process of immigration from India across the Bay of Bengal is referred to as the process of Indianization. Exactly how and when it happened is contested; however, the population of the mainland region largely happened through immigration from India. The Sanskrit script still used as the basis for modern Thai, Lao, Burmese and Khmer has its roots from this process. On the other hand, population of the archipelegos of East Timor, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as Malaysia on the mainland is thought to have come about though immigration from Taiwan.
Before the arrival of European invaders and colonists, Southeast Asia was home to several powerful kingdoms. Some of the more notable ones were the Funan and the Khmer Empire in northern Southeast Asia, as well as the Srivijaya, the Majapahit Kingdom and the Melaka Sultanate in the Malay Archipelago.
European colonial era
Southeast Asian history is very diverse and often tumultuous, and has to an important extent been shaped by European colonialism. The very term Southeast Asia was invented by American Naval strategists around 1940. Southeast Asia was prior to WWII referred to with reference to the colonial powers; farther India for Burma and Thailand, with reference to the main British colony of India, although Thailand was never formally colonized; Indochina referred to the French colonies of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, while Indonesia and parts of maritime Southeast Asia was referred to as the Dutch East Indies. Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore were known as British Malaya, while Sabah was known as British North Borneo. Sarawak, on the other hand was known as the Kingdom of Sarawak and ruled by a British family known as the White Rajahs. Brunei was also made into a British protectorate, with the British taking charge of its defence and foreign affairs. The Philippines was named the Spanish East Indies during the initial period of Spanish colonial rule, and later came to be known by its current name in honour of King Philip II of Spain, a name which stuck even after the islands were transferred from Spanish to American colonial rule. East Timor was colonized by Portugal for 273 years, then occupied by Indonesia for 27 years before becoming the first nation to gain independence in the 21st century.
World War II was disastrous to Southeast Asia, and also saw the beginning of the end of European colonialism, as the European powers surrendered to Japan one by one in disgrace. By the end of 1942, the Japanese had conquered virtually the whole of Southeast Asia, with only Thailand remaining unconquered, as the Thais signed a treaty of friendship with the Japanese which allowed the Japanese to establish military bases in Thailand, and allowed Japanese troops free passage through Thailand. The Japanese occupation was a time of great hardship for many of the natives, as the Japanese took all the resources for themselves, and exploited many of the locals for their own gain. However, the Japanese occupation convinced many locals that the European powers were not invincible after all, and allowed the independence movements to gain pace.
After the war, the decolonisation process started in Southeast Asia, with the Americans granting independence to the Philippines in 1946, while the British granted independence to Burma in 1948, followed by Malaya in 1957 and eventually Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo in 1963, which federated with Malaya to form Malaysia. After some ideological conflicts, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965 and became a sovereign state. On the other hand, the Dutch and the French fought bloody wars in an effort to hold on to their colonies, most of which ended in humiliating defeats for the European colonial powers, eventually leading to the Indonesia gaining independence from the Dutch in 1949, and Indochina from the French, which became the three separate countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in 1954. European colonialism came to an end in Southeast Asia in 1984, when Brunei was granted full independence by the British. Indonesia occupied East Timor in 1975 after it declared independence from the Portuguese following a coup in Portugal, and only left in 1999 following a United Nations referendum. East Timor was then occupied by a United Nations peacekeeping force, before finally becoming independent in 2002.
For at least two thousand years (and to this day), Southeast Asia has been a conduit for trade between India and China, but large-scale Chinese immigration only began with the advent of the colonial era. In Singapore, the Chinese form a majority of the population, but there are substantial Chinese minorities, assimilated to varying degrees, across all countries in the region.
In recent years, Southeast Asia is acknowledged as having a relatively high rate of economic growth, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines often being called the "New Asian Tigers", and Vietnam also recording double digit growth rates in recent years. Nevertheless, despite being one of the most resource rich regions in the world (all Southeast Asian countries except Singapore are considered to be resource rich), widespread corruption means that poverty is still an issue in many countries, which much of the wealth concentrated in the hands of a few elite.
Most of the influences that molded the societies of Southeast Asia predate European colonization, coming from early Chinese and Indian sources. Several great civilizations, including those of the Khmers and Malays, have flourished there. In the late 15th cent., Islamic influences grew strong but were overshadowed by the arrival of Europeans, who established their power throughout Southeast Asia; only Thailand remained free of colonial occupation. Because of Southeast Asia's strategic location between Japan and India, and the importance of shipping routes that traverse it, the region became the scene of battles between Allied and Japanese forces during World War II.
After the war the countries of Southeast Asia have reemerged as independent nations. They have been plagued by political turmoil, weak economies, ethnic strife, and social inequities, although the situation for most Southeast Asian nations improved in the 1980s and 90s. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, however, there were open conflicts between Communist and non-Communist factions throughout most of the region, especially in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (see Vietnam War). In 1967 Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand created the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the objectives of which are to promote regional economic growth, political stability, social progress, and cultural developments. Since then, Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), and Myanmar and Cambodia (1999) have joined ASEAN. In 1997 a monetary collapse in Thailand sparked a general economic crisis in several nations in the region; the results were most severe in Indonesia, which underwent economic, political, and social turmoil in the late 1990s.
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