Imperialism resurgent: European attempts to 'recolonise' South East Asia after 1945

Historian article

By John Springhall, published 1st January 2011

‘To think that the people of Indochina would be content to settle for less [from the French] than Indonesia has gained from the Dutch or India from the British is to underestimate the power of the forces that are sweeping Asia today'.

An American adviser in 1949 cited: Robin Jeffrey ed., Asia: The Winning of Independence (Macmillan, London, 1981), p. 17. A focus on the achieving of independence by India and Pakistan (1947) or on rapidly decolonising British, Belgian and French Africa (1956-68) has meant that the white dominions are usually excluded as vital to the process seen in the West as decolonisation (‘pull out') or in the former colonies themselves as a triumphant national liberation struggle (‘push out'). Also easily overlooked have been the forcible endeavours made in the decade immediately after the Second World War to return former South East Asian colonial territories, officially won back from the Japanese, to their pre-war white European overlords. Unexpectedly, British armed forces played an essential if little known part in assisting the attempted Dutch and French recolonisation of what eventually became the independent territories of Java, Sumatra, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Not only because of Britain's initially uncontested reoccupation of Malaya and Singapore but also through the key role played for six months during 1945-46 by Vice-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten's South East Asia Command (SEAC)..."

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