South Asia

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 1, How should the U.S. deal with countries that are both geopolitically important and politically unstable, such as Pakistan?  Does the U.S. need for political allies outweigh its role as a good neighbor and role model?

2, What about human rights?  What obligations does the rest of the world have when countries are oppressive?  Is there a recourse? Looking back, in Cambodia, Pol Pot was responsible for the death of about 1 million Cambodians, how should the U.S. (and other leading powers) react?  Is getting involved important, and if so, how do you recommend going about it?  If not, at what point, does it becomes important for other countries to get involved?  After World War II, the United Nations vowed to intervene in future genocides, at what point does that become a priority? Another example is Myanmar (Burma) which had a very oppressive government until very recently. But, Burma (Myanmar) has recently had reforms and elections, and the U.S. removed some of the economic sanctions it has had on Burma for many years. However, there are still multiple human rights violations, and there is also wholesale repression and the attempted destruction of the Rohingya people (which even the newly elected government has participated in).  Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner has even been silent on their oppression.  These are the people who have been in the news lately trying to flee by boat (in Asia — there are also multiple “boat people” trying to enter Europe from North Africa).  

3, India and Pakistan have been involved in a very contentious and dangerous relationship.  Both are nuclear powers and have been fighting over various issues since India’s independence, how do you propose that the world respond and help to defuse this dangerous conflict?

4. How do views of women’s role/women’s equality affect roles and environment in India and Asia?  What is your evidence of inequality and does it matter?  Why or why not?

5. What do you see as the biggest issues facing India as they become both the world’s most populous country (by 2030 or sooner) and a world economic power?  How do you see these issues as affecting this growth and what do you think would be the best way to approach these issues (assuming you were able to advise the Indian Prime Minister).  (Please note, I realize that giving advice is difficult, but you don’t have to solve the issues, just recognize how it would be beneficial to even look at the problems.)

South Asia and Southeast Asia

We now comes to the areas of the world with numerous contrasts: some of the largest economic growth, some of the worst poverty, the most modern cities and the least modern countrysides, some of the strongest embraces of Westernism, along with some of the strongest embraces of cultural identity. As we look at South Asia and Southeast Asia, all of these contracts will add up to a dynamic area that is one of the largest areas of economic growth in the world. In some ways, this may be one of the most controversial areas of the world for those of us who are Americans. These are the areas of the world that will become the greatest economic competition for the future of the U.S. They are already the areas where U.S. companies are outsourcing jobs and importing skilled workers, especially in the computer industries. These countries may have bright economic futures, but continue to face their own issues and potential stumbling blocks. The countries we will be examining this week include:







Before we look at these countries, let us re-examine some types of government.

What is the Difference Between Democracy, Authoritarianism, and Totalitarianism?

These definitions are important in the areas of the world that we are examining today because they have contradicted what most political and economic scholars have long believed. In the past, most political and economic scholars believed that capitalism required democracy, (and ultimately, on some level, vice versa). However, South and Southeast Asia (along with China), have demonstrated that capitalism can exist with more authoritarian governments. In other words, democracy is not necessary for capitalism. On some level, of course, there must be a certain sense of freedom – market freedoms – but that does not necessarily translate to civil freedoms. China has demonstrated that the internet can exist with censoring filters, and capitalistic corporations are more than happy to provide them.


Literally, a government of the people. Theoretically, a democracy creates a certain level of rights for its citizens, its citizens elect a leader at various, planned election cycles. There are various types of democracies: such as pure democracies or republics; there are also democracies with weak leaders and strong parliaments/congresses, and democracies with strong leaders and weak parliaments/congresses.


This is the softer form of totalitarianism, where a strong leader or party has control. There may still be some level of democracy or elections, but the leader or party will have a lot of control over those elections. The government may limit individual rights – especially speech, assembly, etc., but there is a general economic freedom, i.e., you are free to choose what type of career you would like, you can start a business, business is not only for the good of the state.


Think “womb to tomb.” Totalitarianism is associated with both extreme ends of the political spectrum – communist totalitarian governments like the USSR under Josef Stalin, and the fascist dictatorships of the Nazis, or Spain or Italy. In general, there are very few, if any, individual rights, rarely any elections or severely limited elections (i.e. a ballot with one candidate). And the state has the right to control the economy to its own favor. If you are a farmer, the state can move you to a collective farm. If you are a factory worker, the state can change what your factory produces.

Keep these definitions in mind as we examine South and Southeast Asia.

The British Raj

South Asia, as we know it today is made of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, (these are the countries of the South Asian Association). In addition, there is historical precedent for also including Myanmar (Burma), Afghanistan, and Iran.

The colony of India that was controlled by the British from 1858 until 1947 (before that India was ruled as part of the East India Company from 1757) was made up of several modern-day countries. The British Raj, under the rule of India, was known, including present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Singapore.

Indian Independence

India’s quest for Independence was actually a nonstop push from the beginning of colonialism. The huge revolt against the East India Company in 1857 was violently suppressed but also resulted in the British Crown removing the East India Company from control. Even before the World War I, there were strong independence and self-rule movements throughout India, but the real push occurred after the war. The two big leaders of this movement were Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi. This nonstop quest finally was successful following the Second World War when Great Britain no longer had the money or the will to continually suppress strikes and revolts. However, with freedom came new problems. India is a multicultural society that is made up of several religious bases, most notably Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh, although there are also Christians and Buddhists. The vast majority of India however, is made up of Hindus and Muslims. During their quest for independence, they tried to work together, but once independence seemed likely both camps distrusted each other and wanted control. The answer was to partition India.

India was partitioned into two countries in 1947: India and Pakistan. This was especially notable because Pakistan was actually is divided into two sections, 2000 miles apart: West Pakistan and East Pakistan, with India in the middle.

Mohandas Gandhi

The country was divided this way so that there could be an Islamic based country and a Hindu based country. However, the people of India were not so neatly divided. Each local Prince could choose the country that it would align with. However, in some areas, the Prince would be Muslim while the majority of the people in that area were Hindu. Other areas had a Hindu Prince with a Muslim majority. The year after independence, millions of people were displaced and/or killed trying to move from one part of the country to another. Hindus feared to live in Muslim Pakistan, while many Muslims feared to live in a Hindu dominated India. One of the victims of this religious feud/fear was Gandhi, who was assassinated by a radical Hindu who feared that Gandhi had been too supportive of the Muslims.

This religious conflict continues today. The province of Kashmir in the Northwest of India on the border of Pakistan is still an object of serious contention between India and Pakistan, and one of the main reasons that both India and Pakistan have developed nuclear weapons. Soon after the partition, Kashmir was incorporated into India despite an overwhelming majority of Muslims. There was a brief war between Pakistan and India and today, 2/3 of Kashmir has been annexed to India, while 1/3 is part of Pakistan. They are still arguing over this and this has been one of the hot spots in Pakistani/India relations.

The Republic of India

Jawaharlal Nehru

Nehru was the leader of the Hindu Congress Party (now known simply as the Congress Party) and was elected as the first Prime Minister of the new country. India set up a new government and constitution and modeled their government on that of many European countries with a strong parliament and a Prime Minister elected from the Parliament. India wrote a strongly secular constitution, committed to equality among various ethnic groups and religions. India was, for many years, a “one-party” democracy. Although in recent years, other parties have sprung up and some have gained some ground, the Congress Party is still the most influential. Nehru was a popular leader partly because of his involvement with the independence movement.

Nehru’s vision for India involved many cultural and economic changes. When Great Britain had taken over India back in the 19th century, India had been one of the world’s great economies. By the time it left in 1947 it accounted for very little of the world’s economy. Nehru’s first goal was to modernize and stimulate India’s economy. He believed that the best way to do that was through socialism. Although disturbed by some of the methods of the Soviet Union, he was impressed at their economic growth and looked at them as an inspiration. He socialized India by creating all of the new industries as state-owned enterprises: steel mills, railroads, communications (i.e. telephones), and heavy manufacturing industries. However, he did not convert India into a fully socialist state. There were still private markets and private ownership.

His interest in Soviet-style economic planning, however, put India in a very unique position during the Cold War. Nehru and his successors were the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement. This meant that India tried to remain neutral and friendly to both superpowers. Overall, they were successful, since their government was not considered a threat to either the U.S. or the Soviet Union. However, there were many instances of icy relations between the United States and India. Moreover, to counter India, Pakistan aligned with the United States, which guaranteed Pakistan better relations, and often a lot more money.

When Nehru (Prime Minister 1947-1964) took over in 1947, the poverty rate (meaning abject poverty, lacking adequate food and water) in India equaled 50%. Today the poverty rate is about 33%. Yet today, India is the world’s 4th largest economy. Nehru’s plan was generally successful. There was growth in this mixed economy for the first 30 years, but by 1977, the economic growth had slowed. The problem with heavy socialism is that it is inefficient and eventually that bogs down the economy.

However, it wasn’t just abject poverty and poor economic status that India had to deal with as it pushed on through the 20th century. Nehru ’s other vision involved cultural change. India has had a caste system in place for many years (long before the British arrived). The caste system is essentially a codified class system, where certain levels are considered “untouchable.” The system may have had more fluidity before British colonization codified it. Following independence, the Indian Constitution, along with other laws began to outlaw discrimination based on caste. However, anyone who has ever studied racism knows how difficult it is to eliminate. Although there has been much less emphasis on caste and more inter-caste marriages in the bigger cities, the country has a much stronger emphasis on caste. There has been much less successful in eliminating the role of caste in the country than in the city. Thus, although there have been laws to eliminate the caste system and to provide equality for women and to do away with dowries, laws are limited by cultural predispositions. It is easy to say that men and women are equal or that all castes are equal, but it is very difficult to convince the people to behave as if they all believe that.

Indira Gandhi

Although the biggest religious conflicts have been between Muslims and Hindus, India, because of its incredible diversity, has also had other religious and regional conflicts. Following Nehru’s death in 1964, his daughter, Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister. In a conflict with militant Sikhs in Punjab (the northwest corner of India, near Pakistan), Indira took a hard line, repressive approach. In 1984, one of her Sikh bodyguards assassinated her.

Indira’s son Rajiv was then elected Prime Minister. He too was assassinated in 1991, by Tamil rebels on the island country of Sri Lanka. Tamils, who are ethnically related to Indians of the mainland, have been fighting in Sri Lanka for many years.

India today is the world’s fourth-largest economy, with a growth rate of about 8.5%. The newest Prime Minister is named Narendra Modi. He was elected in May 2014 with an outright majority parliamentary win for his party, BJP. He is seen as a reformer that will help to eliminate corruption as well as support business and economic growth.  He is a strict Hindu, known for practicing yoga and strict fasting.  He is also a Hindu Nationalist and while he was criticized for failing to stop or prevent the Gujarat riots in 2002.  He is also very popular and many in both India and Pakistan actually believe that having a Hindu nationalist may help move along the peace process over disputed territories.  He is very popular in India and many Indians see him as the answer to the economic and conflict issues that they have had to deal with over the last few years. India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the fastest growing population in the world (they already have over 1 billion people).


Pakistan was created as a separate country from India, to accommodate the separatist Muslims (and Hindus). Originally, Pakistan consisted of two territories, separated by 2000 miles of India in between.

However, from the beginning, there were issues between East and West Pakistan. Although both areas are Muslim, they are ethnically and linguistically very different. In East Pakistan, the people spoke Bengali while in West Pakistan they spoke Urdu. Also, the East Pakistanis felt left out because the central government was located in Islamabad, West Pakistan. The East Pakistanis also felt economically exploited by West Pakistan. They only received about 25% of the money that went to the government, yet the East Pakistani economy was much larger. After West Pakistan nullified the elections of East Pakistan, due to strife between the two areas, East Pakistan declared independence and fought a war with East Pakistan (they were helped by India). East Pakistan gained independence in 1971 and became known as Bangladesh.

Pakistan’s Politics

Pakistan is operated as a weak parliamentary democracy. However, the Pakistani military has been quick to nullify and cancel elections, and there have been many military coups to oust elected leaders that the military did not like. This was one of the problems that East Pakistan had with West Pakistan. There is a tendency towards authoritarianism in Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto

Pakistan is the world’s 6th most populous country with the second largest Muslim population, including the second largest Shi’a population. During the military rule of the 1970s, Pakistan introduced Sharia law into its constitution. One of Pakistan’s most dangerous problems has been balancing the secular Muslim population along with the fundamentalist Muslim population. There was a move towards secularization in the 1990s when a female, Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister. However, she was also ousted along with her successors by the military. Often, the military justifies its use of power because it says that it is worried about the excessive fundamentalism in the countryside (especially along the border of Afghanistan).

Pakistan’s Cold War Foreign Policy

Pakistan, however, has been an ally of the United States for a long time. It aligned with the United States during the Cold War, in contrast with India who tried to remain non-aligned.

The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had a very large impact on Pakistan. The U.S. supported Afghani “freedom fighters” against the Soviets. They provided arms and support to these groups which ultimately became the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These “freedom fighters” spilled over into the border of Pakistan, and have encouraged the growth of fundamentalism in the area. Thus, along with the border, many Pakistanis are actually allies of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Pervez Musharraf

Following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, declared his support of the United States. However, U.S. troops have been limited in their pursuit of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, when these groups have crossed into the Pakistani border. Most of the tribes on the border are hostile to the U.S., and Musharraf was very guarded in his pursuit of these tribal leaders and in his direct help for the U.S.

Today, Pakistan is still considered a U.S. ally, but it is very unstable. Musharraf declared martial law in November of 2007. When Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan she was briefly placed under house arrest. Applicants who had applied to run for office during the elections in January were heavily scrutinized.  There was an assassination attempt, with bombs that killed over 100 people, but managed to miss Bhutto.  Then shortly before the elections, in December 2007, Bhutto was assassinated.  She was shot while standing up through the moon roof of her bulletproof car, and then bombs shook the area around her.  No one has ever been arrested, although Pakistan blamed Al Qaeda.  Subsequent investigations by Scotland Yard and by the United Nations were inconclusive, other than finding that the original Pakistani investigation was both incompetent and incomplete and destroyed important evidence. 

However, the elections went on as planned and Yousaf Raza Gilani became the new Prime Minister, following Musharraf’s resignation, and Bhutto’s widowed husband (often blamed for the charges of corruption that plagued her time in office) won the Presidency.

Most recently, Pakistan was where Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in May 2011.  This was quite controversial in Pakistan for several reasons: The U.S. did not ask permission (and in fact went to great lengths to hide their entry) to enter into Pakistan for this mission; also, it was found that the town where bin Laden was living was the home of a military school.  The Pakistani government does not have control over the military the way that the U.S. does.  Often the military works against the goals of the government, and the government has very little oversight capability.  There has been a sense that the Pakistani army has been protecting (or at least not actively working against) al Qaeda.

Pakistan’s economy has been helped by a good deal of money coming from the IMF. However, it is saddled with a large debt. It has also been getting a good deal of money from the U.S., to support its alliance with us against Afghanistan, although there are many who are unhappy with the amount (or lack of) support that Pakistan is really offering.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is made up of the following:

· Burma – the most repressive dictatorship on the planet.

· Thailand – has a king, political power between elected leaders and generals

· Laos – Buddhist

· Cambodia – Buddhist

· Vietnam – Buddhist

· Malaysia – Muslim

· Indonesia – Muslim

· Philippines – Catholic

· Hong Kong – at the Delta of the Pearl River in China

· Singapore (Straits of Malacca) 


Civil War in Vietnam, 1959-1965

Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam under colonialism was part of French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). As early as 1919, a young rebel was calling for independence and attended the Versailles Peace Talks, requesting a self- determination for Vietnam. His name was Ho Chi Minh. At the time he was an admirer of the United States and wrote his own declaration of independence for Vietnam based on the Declaration of Independence of the United States. European leaders ignored him, and eventually, Ho became a communist and studied communism in the Soviet Union.

During World War II, Ho created a rebel army to fight both the Vichy French (despite the War, the French tried to hang on to their colony) and also the Japanese. He was supported in this by the U.S.

Immediately following the end of the Second World War, Ho again called for independence for Vietnam. The French had no intention of giving up their colony. He asked Truman for recognition of his new country but was rebuffed, both due to French pressure and Ho’s connections to the Soviet Union.

Thus, Ho was forced to fight a long war of independence from the French. However, he now had an army that was both trained and committed. In 1954, the Vietnamese army defeated the French at Diem Bien Phu. Following their defeat, the peace talks in Geneva came up with a temporary solution:

· The French were to leave Vietnam

· Vietnam would be divided, temporarily, at the 17th parallel

· North Vietnam was under Ho’s rule, but South Vietnam had a new government created.

· There were to be national elections in 1956, reuniting Vietnam

This was during the height of the Cold War. When it became apparent, in 1956 that Ho Chi Minh would win the nationwide elections – it was feared that he would get about 80% of the vote nationwide – the United States, under President Eisenhower, canceled the elections.

This was the beginning of the Vietnamese Civil War. At first, the United States just provided arms, money, and advisors to the South Vietnamese. However, by 1960, the Communists were close to winning, and Eisenhower, and then Kennedy increased U.S. support.

There are several issues that we need to examine in relation to Vietnam:

First, the South Vietnamese government was notoriously corrupt, inept and despised by its people. No matter how much money, or help that the U.S. would supply, the South Vietnamese hated its government. Thus, it resented the U.S. for interfering, since most of the money was basically being stolen by the government leaders.

Second, the United States was in the middle of a very tense time in the Cold War. Just a few years earlier (1949) the Communists had taken over in China. Then just a year after that, (1950) the North Korean Communists – with help from China – had attacked South Korea. The U.S. really did believe that there was a domino effect in place already. If any other countries were to fall to communism, then it was possible that all of Asia could become communist.

Vietnam War

Although the U.S. continued to increase its aid for the South Vietnamese government, it seemed as if South Vietnam had not made any gains. Finally, following the Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964, President Johnson was able to intervene directly in the war. The Tonkin Gulf incident occurred on two separate days. On August 2, there was an attack on a U.S. destroyer by the North Vietnamese Navy. It was repelled and only minor damage occurred. Two days later, there was supposedly a second attack, on another U.S. destroyer. It was the belief in this second attack that the Johnson administration used to justify its escalation of the Vietnam War. There is very strong evidence that this attack never happened. Even the historians for the NSA (National Security Administration) now admit that there was a security lapse and that the second attack never occurred.

From 1965 until 1968, the U.S. went from having about 16,000 “advisors” in Vietnam to 500,000 troops. From the beginning, the war was as much about public perception as it was about fighting. The Johnson Administration used the concept of “body count” to describe its successes in Vietnam. The idea was that we killed a larger number of their troops than they were killing of ours. At the time, there were estimated to be about 170,000 North Vietnamese troops. However, this did not take into account the Viet Cong – South Vietnamese residents who were sympathetic or active in supporting the North. U.S. soldiers were put in a really difficult position. Villagers, who seemed friendly during the daytime, would be covert Viet Cong who would try to kill them at night.

Tet Offensive and Vietnamization

Although the country had been divided about Vietnam since Johnson started sending troops, it was in 1968 that public opinion turned decisively against the war. The single most important aspect of that change was a result of the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive was a surprise attack by the North Vietnamese army, during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, known as Tet. Although the offensive resulted in a loss for the North Vietnamese, its early gains were quite stunning. More importantly, it was the sheer numbers of North Vietnamese soldiers that stunned Americans. By 1968, the U.S. had supposedly killed 170,000 soldiers (equal to the number of the North Vietnamese army), however, there were 170,000 soldiers attacking the South Vietnamese and the U.S. soldiers during Tet. The numbers didn’t add up. It certainly didn’t seem as if the U.S. had made any headway in this war. Walter Cronkite, the venerated CBS news anchor editorialized, following Tet, that the war was unwinnable. That was a key moment that helped to change American viewpoints on the war.

Following Tet, Johnson decided not to run for re-election. The new President, Richard Nixon, had promised troop withdrawal during his campaign. The way that he went about reducing American troops was a process known as Vietnamization. Vietnamization involved reducing American troops and letting the South Vietnamese troops fight the battles, while the U.S. provided a massive bombing campaign. This bombing campaign extended into Vietnam’s neighbors: Cambodia and Laos. In fact, the bombing of Cambodia is considered a factor in the rise of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (a brutal government of the 1970s and 1980s that was responsible for killing between 1 and 3 million of its own people).

End stage of Vietnam War

It became clear that the U.S. needed an exit strategy in Vietnam, so Nixon, following his re-election in 1972 finally agreed to a treaty at the Paris Peace talks. It was the same terms that had been offered by the North Vietnamese 4 years earlier, but Nixon was only interested once he didn’t have to worry about re-election. The key issue was the return of American POWs. The U.S. signed the Treaty in January 1973 and pulled out all remaining troops. South Vietnam continued to fight the North Vietnamese but was defeated in April 1975


The People’s Republic of Vietnam was modeled after other communist regimes. There is only one legal Party – the Communist Party, although that can sanction other small, local parties. The economy was run as a Soviet-style economy, with planning and collective farming. In addition, Vietnam had been economically devastated by the war. Following the war, the economy was hampered by an embargo by the U.S. and most of the European countries. As communist countries began to disappear in the early 1990s, Vietnam reformed both its government and its economy. They began introducing market economy reforms as early as 1986. With those reforms, there has been tremendous economic growth and foreign investment. Today, Vietnam is considered one of the fastest growing economies. Although, still a relatively small and poor country, their poverty level is lower than that of China.



The Philippines had been a Spanish colony since 1571. They were seized by the United States during the Spanish American War in 1898. The Americans won that war very quickly and justified taking the Philippines to bring freedom to its people. However, following the war, the Filipinos had no more freedom under the Americans than they did under the Spanish. The Americans did not want to give up the Philippines because they were in need of coaling stations. (Naval ships were steam-based and used coal at the time). America also wanted a foothold in Asia, and since most of the rest of Asia was already colonized by European countries (with the exception of Japan), the Philippines were all that was left. The Filipinos were just as committed to overthrowing the Americans as they were the Spanish, and the U.S. found itself caught in a guerrilla war that lasted several years and that the U.S. could not actually “win,” since the only way to really win a war like that is to kill almost all of the inhabitants.

Following the Second World War, the United States grants the Philippines its independence, with the exception of a few coaling stations on the islands. With independence, the Philippines created a democracy, but it is rather weak. Like other ex-colonial territories, there are a few very powerful and wealthy families. These families controlled the economy and the government. In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos became President. In 1972, since he was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, he declared martial law and ruled by decree. The Marcos reign was noted for its corruption, cronyism, and cruelty.

Cronyism – the use of favors in awarding government or economic contracts. Crony capitalism is not true capitalism since it the market doesn’t rule. Instead, monopolies are given to friends, relatives, etc., through the use of such things as no-bid contracts.

Marcos dealt with opponents through arrest or exile and was an authoritarian leader. His reign was also marked by low economic growth and mass poverty.

Philippines: Assassination and Reform

In 1983, his political opponent Benigno Aquino returned to the Philippines from exile. He was assassinated as he walked off of the plane. This was the beginning of the end for Marcos. His blatant use of assassination, such a forward manner both demonstrated his power and created an international outcry. Finally, he was forced from office in 1986 and exiled, where he lived the rest of his life in Hawaii.

In 1986, Aquino’s widow, Corazon was elected President. She instituted a new constitution in 1987, got the US naval base closed in 1994 and instituted economic reform that saw real economic growth in the 1990s.

Since then the Philippines were hurt by the financial crisis of 1997, and have had issues with corruption with their current President. However, the economy rebounded from the 1997 crisis and is seeing strong economic growth.



Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world (China, India, US, Indonesia). It was first colonized by the Dutch in the 1600s and was known as the Spice Islands. The Dutch hung onto its spice islands and then discovered that they were also blessed with oil.


During the Second World War, the Japanese took over Indonesia. Sukarno, an Indonesian helped the Japanese to fight off the Dutch. After the war, he declared independence from the Netherlands. The Dutch tried to re-establish rule but were forced to fight a war with the Indonesians. Finally, in 1949, the Dutch recognized Indonesia as an independent country.

Socialism Under Sukarno, 1950-1965

Sukarno, a national hero became President. He was also a socialist and nationalized foreign businesses and oil fields. He also instituted economic planning and controls. However, his term was also corrupt and he too practiced cronyism. When economic growth did not occur (again, socialism type economies, are rarely successful), he blamed neo-colonialism. His overall popularity, however, allowed him to get away with a bad economy.

General Suharto

He tried to woo the communists, and this backfired when the communists attempted a coup in 1965. He retaliated with a purge of communists that led to about half a million dead, a large number of these were ethnic Chinese.

The head of the military, General Suharto became a leader in 1967. He created a “New Order” that encouraged foreign investment and moved away from socialism. However, his administration became increasingly authoritarian. As the government became more entrenched it also became more corrupt. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Indonesia experienced strong economic growth. However, following the financial crisis of 1997, Indonesia was one of the hardest hit economically. As a result, many Indonesians took to the street protesting Suharto and he was forced to step down.

Indonesian economic growth has returned. And Indonesia has strengthened the role of democracy. However, despite economic growth, Indonesia has one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the area.

Burma (Myanmar)

One of the saddest stories is that of Burma. Burma was once one of the most economically wealthy colonies of Great Britain. It was given its independence in 1948, following India. It was initially a democracy, but a military coup in 1962 brought democracy to an end there. There was a shimmer of hope in 1990 when the government held elections. However, the results of the elections were canceled when the government refused to give up power. Supposedly, in 1997, the government was going to write a new constitution; however, ten years later, it still is not done (started?). Economically, Burma is one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world. Political and economic pressure has not yet resulted in regime change.

In addition to economic underdevelopment, the government is extremely authoritarian. The government censors the internet, newspapers, etc. Most recently (July – November 2007), during protests by people demanding elections, the government cut off internet access and denied entry to foreign journalists.

However, more recently they have allowed elections although the military limits who may stand for office.  In 2011 there were reforms that eased the limits on speech and protests.  The famous dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was given freedom from house arrest and has been allowed to run for office.  Overall, there has been an opening up of Burma from the extreme repression of just a few years ago.  However, since that opening up, there has also been an increase in attacks on the minority 
 people.  They are banned from citizenship in Burma and have been claiming that they are being discriminated against and there have also been brutal attacks on them.


South and Southeast Asia are probably the areas of the world poised to have the largest economic growth and hence a great deal of political power in the near future. How they deal with issues like religious conflict and political conflict will be a model for the rest of the world.

Next week… we will look at Africa.

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