Today, Southeast Asia is seen as a hub for international business. The increasing emphasis on globalization and free trade between the western and eastern hemispheres is bearing a determinant impact on the outlook for such nations as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Inclined by the success of nearby neighbors Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, these have begun to present themselves as venues for profitable investment in technology and production endeavors.
However, the type of economic independence now gradually emerging in these settings would be hard won, only a recent development in a far more protracted history of occupation, resistance and violence. A discussion with a focus trained on Vietnam and Indonesia reveals the relationship between imperial occupation as it occurred across centuries of European and American dominance and the countries which have been delivered to us as a result.
Modern day Vietnam is a stable if only now developing nation, independent and a rare entity in its steadfast commitment to the socialist title which it earned through its 1975 reunification of its North and South. This stability has in turn invoked a ripple effect in Southeast Asia, promoting in what was once the bloodstained region known as Indochina, a positive trend of economic growth and very gradually refining political orientation.
Indochina, incorporating neighbors Cambodia and Laos in Vietnam’s tangled web of European imperial ambitions, militant political divisions and ideological confrontations, would be set upon its path by the arrival of French-Catholic missionaries in the early twentieth century. This was true as early as 1625, when Alexander Rhodes, a Jesuit scholar, “ gained the approval of the College of Propaganda at Rome for his scheme to recruit from the French clergy a missionary society which would be dedicated to the task of providing manpower and funds for training an indigenous Catholic hierarchy for the church in eastern Asia. (Cady, 3) This crucial event would sow the seeds for a colonial occupation that would not take hold in any official capacity until 1860, when the French initiated a full-scale military effort to retain political authority there. Here would begin the chapter which leads Southeast Asia to modern day. The French occupation of that which had come to be identified as French Indochina would last directly up to the dying days of colonialism.
The splintering effect of World War II and the exhaustion of European powers had made the notion of colonialism, in its aftermath, an impossibility. The postwar era would be marked by two correlated patterns in the spread of socialist ideology and the decolonization of territories which had functioned under European authority for, in some cases, centuries.
These two effects would provoke a movement for independence in the traditionally, fiercely independent Vietnam, where a fomenting communist movement noted the opportunity in France’s relative weakness to declare itself extricated from its colonial authority. Under the leadership of communist revolutionary and ardent Vietnamese nationalist Ho Chi Minh, the northern-based political party achieved recognition by the French government as a legitimate governing authority.
Yet, even as Ho Chi Minh negotiated the terms of his nation’s independence from the century of colonial rule, “ French authorities on the scene were attempting to set up Cochinchina as an independent state separate from the rest of Viet Nam and under French protection” (Joes, 20) This site would become the seat of operations first for the French during the First Indochina War from 1946 to 1954, and then, as Saigon, for the Americans during the Second Indochina War from 1965 to 1975.
In both instances, major imperialist powers would be repelled by an unwavering nationalist resistance, initiated by the movement for decolonization and sustained by an ever-heightening sense of the needs for national unification and shared self-determination. It would not be until 1975 that this would finally come to pass, with its current path reflecting an only even more recent surge toward genuine progress.
Certainly, the region is just now beginning to achieve an identity which is separate from its roots of subjugation, and which is yet undoubtedly shaped by their effects. From the French culture and Catholic religion which helped to foster the ideological liberalization of its educational values to the deeply scarred psyche still resonant after decades of a civil war intensified by the interests of foreign superpowers, the region is simultaneously a product of and a reaction to the imperialism and intervention of the French and the Americans respectively.
The phenomenon of imperialism shaped Southeast Asia in many ways but the real wonder of Southeast Asia is how it broke away from the French imperialism stronghold, along with interference from the United States, and became self-sufficient. Contrary to Vietnam, Indonesia has not had a major conflict with the Western World in the last century. However, its ethnic makeup does place it at the center of very current global conflicts, and many of these draw there roots in Indonesia’s past under foreign occupation.
Indonesia’s importance in the world and its considerable wealth as a producer of natural resources are geographical advantages which its native populations have rarely enjoyed. A dense fabric of regional and ethnic conflicts have long been the determinant factors in the success with which Indonesians have been able to cultivate the bounties at their disposal and to bring economic order to the extensive territory which it has been their fortune and challenge to possess for fifty years. Indeed, progress has been made in the nation which in 1999 held its first democratic elections for the presidency.
However, the land and range of ethnic predispositions which are contained by its sovereignty are vast and its histories, distant and recent, are marked by turmoil. Both the victim of grave intercontinental discrimination and the perpetrator of terrible crimes against humanity, Indonesia is today a product of the long-term cultural, political and religious paradoxes created by the unnatural relationship between its colonized history and its struggle to find its own identity. The Japanese invasion of 1942 and the subsequent three years of occupation are the historical inflection point for Indonesia.
The irony of an imperialist invasion disrupting a pattern of colonial rule has had a real impact on Indonesia’s ongoing difficulty in reconciling contradictions within its own jurisdiction such as those which have relegated the nation’s people to violence, poverty and ethnic unrest even as the nation moves closer to international standards of human rights recognition and economic interdependency. These are considerations which must enter into our understanding of Indonesia’s only now genuinely improving index for spending in the marketing context.
Its difficulty in establishing unity and in determining the limitations of its own borders have long detracted from its ability to shape an advertising culture with any distinction or monetary force. Indeed, the Indonesia of today is an enormous collection of territories which, though separated by natural and ethnic borders, are aligned under a single flag, a single national anthem and a single, domestic government. In its history, its diffuseness made Indonesia ripe for the picking by foreign powers. By contrast, its size could also make it quite a powerful player on its own right.
With more than 200 million inhabitants, Indonesia is sprawling and rife with opportunities for the stimulation of a popularly shared growth. Indonesia’s modern history essentially began like that of many nations, in the ashes of the 20th centuries worst conflict. In 1945, with the catastrophic end of the deadliest conflict in world history, Indonesia saw an opportunity that many former colonies did. “ Shortly after Japan’s defeat in WWII, Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed Indonesia an independent state, and they became the founding fathers of the new country.
The largest archipelago in the world, with over 17, 000 islands — only 3, 000 of which are inhabited — has emerged into a new Indonesia. ” (AP, 1) With Japan devastated by defeat, disarmed and now itself the subject to foreign rule, Indonesia was left in a vacuum. As we currently know, Indonesia is a nation that has struggled to find itself amid the lingering violent impulses of its occupied past. Since its inception, it has engaged in violent conflicts for the continuation of its sovereignty in ethnic enclaves such as Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and East Timor, which was granted independence from Indonesia in 1999.
To date, ethnic tensions provoke the hostilities that are omnipresent in Indonesia. Independence movements are a constant threat to its stability with many evermore fueled by radical Islamic orientation. This places it in a more precarious modern state that a nation such as Vietnam. Vietnam’s emergence from colonialist subjugation to the remarkable status of having defeated the United States in a long and terrible war would make it the dominant power in its regional sphere.
In the same year that it would reunite its own nation, the Communist party would likewise instate communist leadership in Laos. And by 1979, it would also overthrow the Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia for its gross mismanagement of the civilian population. Still, these accomplishments would foster a false sense of confidence in Southeast Asia. Torn by decades of war, both civil and insurgent, the Communist government would immediately find itself faced with the difficulties inherent in its ideologies.
A compelling embodiment of Southeast Asia in the relatively brief time which has passed since its century of subjugation is one offered in 1990 by a top communist advisor Tran Bach Dang, he recalled an “ old Chinese adage: ‘ you can conquer a country from horseback, but you cannot govern it from horseback. ’ (Karnow, 37) Though the resistance formulated by a shared communist ideology converged with a vehement sense of nationalism to enable the Vietnamese to dispatch the United States, they were yet unable to adapt these philosophies as functional governmental policies.
Initial indications were that Vietnam’s prospects for reconstruction would be arduous, costly and afflicted by obstacles. And for the first twenty years, this was very much this case. Such was a situation in no small way effected by the economic isolation which had been a consequence of its deeply damaged relationship with the United States. Even as it had emerged victorious in its two primary aims of independence and reunification, Vietnam would nonetheless suffer the repercussions of crossing the Western Superpower.
The waning Soviet economy and the warming of relations between the United States and China did not augur well for Southeast Asia which remained closed to western relations. It would not be until Vietnam underwent considerable reforms to its own governmental structure that genuine progress would begin to emerge throughout the region. In 1992, a reevaluation of its constitution would provoke the communist republic to open its doors to global capitalism. By 1995, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were granted normalized trade status with the United States.
This would mark a turning point in the post-war era, bringing each of these nations into contact with the world economy. To day, Vietnam is one of the fastest growing venues for production and technology outsourcing for the west. This is, in many ways, helping to finally heal the scars of America’s attempts at subjugating the Vietnamese. Interestingly, as it increasingly becomes a recognized participant in the world’s economy, Vietnam also increasingly has come to identify with Western values.
Its interest in participating in the spoils of free trade, for example, indicate that the presence of western values would be important in helping the nation to achieve its own identity. For the whole of Southeast Asia, the arrival of French colonialists would begin an era of cultural, political and economic dominance that would give the Vietnamese access to rising principles of a socialist conceit then becoming extremely pronounced in France. The last-ditch effort by the United States to prevent the realization of this fervor would enable it the opportunity to exercise such a philosophy.
And as the region gradually becomes a more pertinent and concurrently self-directed part of the world community, the ways in which these experiences have profoundly shaped it become ever more apparent. As for Indonesia, its promise will only be checked by its unwillingness to remain open. Indeed, current conditions relating the east and west have been negative, with war and cultural divide reigning international affairs. The result in Indonesia has been that “ foreign investment in the media has been facing increased scrutiny from politicians and public advocacy groups. (Greenlees, 1) This is a pattern that owes to Indonesia’s long history of foreign occupation and resistance. Indonesia has, without question, been a prime indicator of the ways that globalization is helping to economically engage nations that are still struggling to establish economic and political lockstep with the rest of the world. Whether this will bridge the considerable living standard and ideology gaps between Indonesia and the west remains to be seen but today, its promise and its problems are both reflected in a past of imperial oversight and the cultural resistance thereto.
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