VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > F. South and Southeast Asia, 1945–2000 > 2. Southeast Asia, 1941–2000
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Southeast Asia)
2. Southeast Asia, 1941–2000
a. Overview
In Southeast Asia, the struggle for independence from the European colonial powers held center stage during the period immediately following World War II. Most of these struggles were completed by 1954, except for those of Malaysia (1957), Singapore (1965), and Brunei (which did not occur until 1984, largely because of the lack of strong internal pressure for independence). During the period 1954–67, the Western powers and many Southeast Asians experienced fears of Communism that were directly related to the worldwide implications of the cold war. These concerns led to fresh intrusions by the West into Southeast Asian life and politics. During 1965–75, American involvement in the Vietnam War (Second Indochina War) dramatically affected mainland Southeast Asia. After the Americans withdrew, the Communists triumphed in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed (Aug. 6, 1967) by the non-Communist Southeast Asian countries (Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore) to deal with the threat of further Communist encroachments, especially in the face of China's increasing power. Informal neocolonial influences, in the form of multinational involvement in local economies, continued in this period. One of the most significant ongoing tensions during this recent phase of Southeast Asian history concerns the place of immigrant groups, primarily Chinese, who dominate economic activities in many Southeast Asian countries.  1
In the 1950s and 1960s, all the governments in the region, excepting that of Laos, launched ambitious industrialization programs to lessen their dependencies on the export of primary commodities and the import of manufactured goods. By the 1970s, the initial focus on import substitution industries shifted to export-oriented industrialization in the ASEAN countries, with Singapore leading the way.  2
In Thailand, economic growth has been consistently high. In Malaysia, the economy has prospered, in large measure because of the abundance of natural resources and the ability to take advantage of foreign investments to advance industrialization. In Indonesia, oil export earnings and political stability have provided for stable, unprecedented, and, by world standards, remarkable economic growth; but the benefits have not been equally shared. The lower classes' exclusion from these economic advances and the uneven levels of development on Java and the outer islands have led to labor unrest.  3
Burma (Myanmar) experienced a slower rate of economic expansion than the ASEAN states. The structure of its economy has changed little because, after 1962, the government followed a strict policy of autarky in order to maintain economic independence and increase equality among all classes. Laos remained one of the world's poorest countries, but in the early 1990s it instituted reforms to establish a more market-driven economy in an effort to attract potential foreign investors. Cambodia's economic development was devastated by the chaos the nation experienced until a new political structure was introduced in 1993.  4
Demographically, at the end of World War II, the population in Southeast Asia just surpassed 150 million. By 1990, well over 400 million people lived in the region. From 1950 to the 1980s, the population doubled in the urban centers, and one out of four people resided in a city.  5
The reactions of leaders to the population explosion varied. Indonesia's Sukarno initially boasted that his country would welcome a population of 250 million. After 1970, resultant economic problems changed this attitude; although Indonesia's family-planning program gained much international acclaim, by 1992 some 2.5 million new job seekers every year joined a labor force that already suffered from serious rates of unemployment and underemployment. In the early 1980s, the Malaysian leader Mahatir announced an ultimate target population of 70 million people in the hope of expanding the internal economic market and also for political reasons—as he wanted to capitalize on the fact that the Malays were reproducing faster than other Malaysian ethnic groups. At the time, the Malaysian population had reached 15 million, and by 1992 it stood at about 18.5 million. Although the Burman (Myanmar) government introduced population control programs, they floundered because of the government's contradictory and confusing policies. Because of its unique situation, Singapore adopted the most draconian state intervention in family planning, and in the 1980s fertility actually fell below replacement levels. After 1970, Thailand was unambiguously committed to population control, which did reduce birthrates by the late 1980s. Throughout Southeast Asia, fertility fell substantially after 1960; but because of declining mortality rates, Southeast Asia still faced the problems of rising population rates in the 1990s.  6
On Dec. 15, 1995 the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed a nuclear-free-zone pact for their region, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.  7
1996, Nov. 25
The Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders endorsed a declaration to eliminate tariffs on computers and other high-technology products by the year 2000.  8
1997, Nov. 24–25
APEC convened in Vancouver, Canada, to discuss the economic turmoil brewing in Southeast Asia.  9
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.