Read this article to learn about the status of the South-East Asian countries between the two World wars!

The Philippines:

During the period of US colonial rule, the Philippines had been reduced to an economic appendage of the US.

She exported about 80 per cent of all her exports, mainly sugar, coconuts and tobacco, to the US, and was dependent on the US for about 70 per cent of her imports.

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The pattern of her economic development under US patronage was similar to the one that existed in most Latin American countries, that is, production of a few export oriented crops mainly for bartering against essential imports. Also, as in most Latin American countries, the land was owned by big landlords.

The peasant unrest had given rise to radical political movements which aimed at ending the colonial rule as well as the exploitation of landlords. A peasant uprising took peace in the early 1930s but it was suppressed. There were other political movements for the independence of the country. In 1935, autonomy was granted to the Philippines with the promise of independence after ten years.


The most outstanding leader of the freedom movement in Indo- China, comprising Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, was Nguyen Ai Quoc who, later, became known as Ho Chi Minh. During the First World War, about 100,000 Vietnamese had been sent to France, some as soldiers and many as labourers.


They came into contact with the socialist and other radical movements in France. Ho Chi Minh was actively associated with the formation of the Communist Party of France. In 1925, he set up the Revolutionary Youth League of Vietnam. In 1930, the various communist groups came together to form the Vietnamese Communist Party, which was later renamed as the Communist Party of Indo-China.

This party became the leading force in the struggle for independence against French rule. There was another parry, the Vietnam National Party, which was modelled on the Guomindang. This party organised a rebellion in 1930, which was suppressed.


In Indonesia—or the Dutch East Indies, as the colonial rulers called her—political movements for freedom from Dutch rule and workers’ and peasants’ organisations had emerged during the early years of the twentieth century.

These included the Islamic Alliance and the Indies’ Social-Democratic Association. In 1920, the Communist Party of Indonesia was formed, which organised uprisings in Java and Sumatra. The uprisings were suppressed by the Dutch authorities.


In 1927, the Nationalist Party was formed under the leadership of Ahmed Sukarno, who later became the president of independent Indonesia. This party brought together various other organisations and parties for launching a united struggle for freedom.

It also adopted the objective of establishing socialism once the country had won her independence. Alarmed at the growing strength of the nationalist movement, the Dutch authorities banned the Nationalist Party and arrested many of its leaders, including Sukarno. The repression continued for many years, and even political discussions on the demand for independence were banned.


After her annexation by the British, Burma (present Myanmar) had been made a part of Britain’s Indian empire. She was separated from India in 1937. The nationalist movement had started emerging in Burma in the early years of the twentieth century with the formation of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association in 1906. The growth of the anti-imperialist struggle in India was an important influence on the

Burmese nationalist movement and the leaders of the freedom movements in the two countries developed close contacts with each other. In 1921, the General Council of Burmese Association was set up and, like the Indian National Congress at the time, raised the demand for self-government for Burma.

In the 1930s, an organisation of the youth who called themselves Thakins, or owners of their country, was set up. It demanded complete independence. The most prominent leader of this organisation was Aung San who later became the leader of the Burmese Communist Party.

After her separation from India, constitutional reforms similar to the Government of India Act of 1935 were introduced in Burma but these failed to satisfy the aspirations of the Burmese nationalists. There was a mass anti-British upsurge and protest marches and strikes all over the country.


The British colony of Malaya comprised a number of states some of which were under direct British administration while others enjoyed some measure of autonomy under local rulers. The country was exploited by the British mainly for her rubber and tin.

The plantations and mines were owned by the British and the workers included many of Indian origin. Singapore was crucial to British imperialism in Asia because of its commercial and strategic importance.

Besides, the Malays and the people of Indian origin, Malaya had a large population of Chinese origin who were mostly engaged in trade and commerce. The different ethnic groups had formed their own political associations, and the British authorities exploited the differences among them to prevent the rise of a united nationalist movement in Malaya.

Sri Lanka:

The population of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) comprised mainly the Sinhalese, the Tamils and plantation workers of Indian origin. The British authorities introduced constitutional changes which gave the upper sections of the Sri Lankan society a share in the administration of the country.

In 1931, under a new constitution, adult franchise was introduced and an assembly was created. The members of the assembly along with the British secretaries ran the government. A number of political parties were formed and a number of leaders, who later were at the forefront of the political life of independent Sri Lanka, rose to prominence in the 1930s.