Asia’s split into colonies and zones marked the beginning of a gradual growth of independence movements in the continent. As it progressed, it eventually led to the ultimate retreat of foreign powers that had conquered the land.

It also led to the creation of several nation-states in the region to say the least. Asia’s decolonization created tensions and conflicts among the two major European colonial powers, France and England. 

China, in particular, was an empire England hoped, France, Japan, and Russia had hoped to divide its spoils. Asia splitting into colonies and zones of influence created balanced conflicting interests that led to the maintenance of China as an autonomous state.

However, these events did not prevent the subjugation of the economy or its political independence being reduced to a pure form. Many things led to the decolonization of Asia, but World War II was the event that broke the camel’s back.

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Asia before Decolonization

Europe began colonizing Asia in the sixteenth century, beginning with Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India. They established a permanent operation base in Malacca in 1511; by 1565, Spain had conquered the Philippines and begun its colonialism.

In the seventeenth century, more European countries entered Asia, including the British, Dutch, and French. This was mostly due to the decline in Spanish and Portuguese fortunes, which was a result of the upheavals back home.

The Dutch took over some old-Portuguese colonies in South-East Asia and expanded into most of present-day Indonesia. At the same time, it was establishing trade links with China and Japan.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the British fought the Portuguese presence in Asia, including India and other parts. By the mid-19th century, the British held most of India, along with Malaysia, Burma, and Singapore.

Meanwhile, the Revolt of 1857 was the conscious beginning of Asia’s struggle for independence against British colonial tyranny. The British subdued the revolt using force and weapons, after which the East India Company was dissolved. Shortly after, Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India, and India came directly under the administration of Britain.

Meanwhile, the French did not have as much success in India as they were driven out following their defeat in the Carnatic Wars. Nevertheless, they did establish lucrative colonies in and around the region of Indochina, present-day Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

The Imperialist Phase of Asia’s Colonization

The imperialist phase of Asia’s colonization began in 1884 with French rule being established in Tonkin, present-day northern Vietnam. Cambodia, which the French had controlled since 1863, Tonkin, and Cochin-China were placed under one French administration, the Indochina government.

Out of the entire Indochinese peninsula, only Siam was not colonized, although it was forced to concede to France and England. These concessions to England and France only served to substantially reduce Siam’s sovereignty.

After France completed the occupation of Tonkin, England followed suit with the completion of Burma’s occupation in 1886. Meanwhile, Burma’s occupation was aggregated to the Indian empire.

Furthermore, the conquest of the Pacific islands began in the same year with New Guinea’s partition between Holland, Germany, and Great Britain. Through a campaign against China, the French were able to conquer Tonkin, once again demonstrating the weakness of the Chinese empire.

The Chinese Question: the Start of a Difficult Concession Battle

As Asia split into colonies, so did the conflicting interests between colonial powers increased. The tensions and conflicts were particularly focused on the question of China – also referred to as a “Chinese question.” The question, previously raised, eventually exploded after Japan attacked and overtook China in a quick war between 1894 and 1895.

Economic and political advantages came out of the war, known as the Treaty of Shimonoseki, but they had to be shared equally. “Spoils” had to be shared equally to ensure the balance of forces in Asia and the world is not altered.

However, it also led to a difficult battle of concessions, which was paused when China led a naturalist revolt against foreigners. This revolt was promoted by a secret society, known as the boxers movement or literary and patriotic order of harmonious punks.

Meanwhile, the United States, England, France, Russia, and Germany led an international expedition organized to suppress the revolt. There was momentary solidarity between the colonizing powers, which succeeded in stifling the revolt.

However, the solidarity failed in resolving the issues raised by the Sino-Japanese war, which was pretty serious. The most serious aspect of the war was the clash of Japanese and Russian expansionism in Manchuria and Korea.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, in 1904, Japan led an attack on the Russian base without a declaration of war. This bold move largely had to do with Japan having the political backing of Great Britain, with which they were allied.

The whole world was surprised by Japan’s military efficiency, especially the Russians, who had underestimated their adversary. Caught unprepared, the Russian base in Port Arthur had to surrender after the siege, which lasted for a year.

Japan defeated another Russian Army in Mukden, forcing Russia to use only naval means to send their troops to Manchuria. However, the Japanese destroyed the Russian fleet in the transfer from the Baltic to the Far East, between Korea and Japan. In September 1905, the American President, Theodore Roosevelt, helped the two countries to make peace. 

Conclusion: The Influence of Colonial Expansions on European Nations

Before the race for colonial conquests started, Spain, a dominant country in colonization, left the scene as a colonial power. Meanwhile, colonial expansions heavily determined many things in European countries, including the orientation of international politics, and agreements and antagonism between states.

More so, the most evident influence at this stage was the link between states’ foreign policies and their economic development demands. Economic competition progressed from domestic to international, while economic naturalism became a universal rule – almost.

Meanwhile, Bismarck, Germany’s Chancellor of the time, has always aimed to isolate France politically, preventing it from getting support for a rematch. The good thing that came out of this was the pact between the three emperors in Germany, Austria, and Russia.

Also, Germany remained in alliance with Italy, eventually supporting her for the liberation from Rome. Nevertheless, it was impossible to form an alliance between Great Britain and France because of the frictions between both nations.