Vanessa edited - The-Historic

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“The achievement of independence in many Southeast Asian states was due to an
internal rather than external factors.” How far do you agree?
I agree to a large extent that the achievement of independence in many Southeast Asian
states was due more to internal than external factors. The internal factors were the roles
played by outstanding nationalist leaders and the choice of armed struggle, while the
external factor is the favorable international circumstances by external players like
America of which all three factors did play a part in the achievement of independence in
the cases of Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaya.
The success of attaining independence in Vietnam, Malaya and Indonesia were largely
due to the outstanding nationalist leaders who were opportunistic and took a nonCommunist front to win supporters. They also seized the political vacuum left by the
Japanese defeat, which made it a lot more difficult for the colonial powers to re-establish
themselves because the nationalists had done a fait accompli that was hard to erase from
the minds of the people. In the case of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh appeared as nonCommunist in the wording of the Declaration of Independence, which was proclaimed on
2nd September 1945, alluding to the American Declaration of independence to win
American support. Also, he projected himself as a non-communist force as the ideology
lacked appeal to the Vietnamese citizens. In Indonesia, Sukarno clamped down the 1948
PKI revolt, hence winning over the support of the Americans, as he was willing to take
strong actions against the Communists. In Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the chief
minister and leader of UMNO and the Alliance Party held the Baling Talks in 1955 with
the Communist leader Chin Peng. He won the support of the British for the granting of
early independence as they refused to compromise with the MCP in acknowledging it as
a legal party, thus assuring the British that they had a competent, anti-Communist
government that can be trusted to lead Malaya as an independent state. Hence, the antiCommunist front put up by the nationalist leaders did contribute to the achievement of
independence of the Southeast Asian states, notably in Indonesia and Malaya.
The use of armed struggle also helped to achieve independence either in a direct or
indirect way, whereby force was employed after negotiations with the colonial rulers had
failed. For example, in Vietnam, the locals employed armed struggle against the French
in the First Indochina War 1946-1954, and following that, the American forces in the
Second Indochina War 1959-1975. This contributed directly to the retreat of these powers
and eventually the Vietminh and Vietcong secured Vietnamese independence. In
Indonesia, armed struggle raised the profile of nationalists as freedom fighters, especially
when the advocates of the permuda movement triggered the 1947 and 1948 police actions
by the Dutch which attracted international attention from America and the United Nations,
thus tilting the scales in favour of Indonesian independence after they put pressure on the
Dutch to negotiate with the Indonesian nationalists at the Round Table Conference in
1949. In Malaya, armed struggle assisted Malayan nationalism as it banded the UMNO,
MCA and MIC, which were parties that safeguarded their own racial interests into the
Alliance Party in the face of the common threat, brought about the Communist
Insurgency 1948-1960. This made the British realize that ethnic cooperation was possible,
thus acceleration the granting of independence as they could no longer cite ethnic
disunity as a threat to the survival of Malaya. Therefore, the armed struggle did secure
independence for the Southeast Asian states either directly or indirectly.
The external factor of favorable international circumstances did lead, to a small extent, to
the achievement of independence in Southeast Asian states. For example, the signing of
the Atlantic Charter in 1941 between Britain and America did contribute to the general
trend towards decolonization, with the third clause of the Charter recognizing that all
people had the right to self-determination. This only benefited Indonesia and Malaya,
while it hindered the achievement of independence of Vietnamese nationalism as
Vietnam was split long the 17th parallel, as they feared the spread of Communism more
than their desire to de-colonize. In the case of Indonesia, American interests of resisting
Communism coincided with Indonesian nationalism, hence putting pressure on the
United Nations to denounce the second Dutch Police Action 1948, calling for the release
of Hatta and Sukarno who were key nationalist leaders. America went as far as to
threaten to withhold Marshall aid from the Netherlands should they refuse to pave the
way for Indonesian independence, hence the Dutch held the Round Table Conference
1949 which recognized the Republic of Indonesia as a state within the federal United
States of Indonesia, becoming a key stepping stone to the achievement of independence.
In Malaya, the British were willing to grant gradual self rule through the Malayan Union
1946 and afterward to relinquish greater power through the Federation of Malaya 1948.
Moreover, to combat the appeal of Communism in Malaya, the British tried to outbid
them by offering gradual independence, and subsequently sped up the process when they
saw, in the Baling Talks 1955 that Tunku Abdul Rahman was capable of standing up to
the Communists. Hence, the favorable international circumstances accelerated the
transfer of independence to the nationalist leaders in Indonesia and Malaya but actually
hindered the achievement of Vietnamese independence.
In conclusion, I agree with the statement to a large extent, as without military and civilian
nationalist leaders, they would not have made use of opportunities like the favorable
international circumstances or overcome challenges. Additionally, favorable international
circumstances brought about by the Atlantic Charter were half-hearted in practice, as
seen by the Malayan Union 1946, French Union in the 6 March 1946 and Linggajati
Agreement 1946 Dutch Kingdom, showing that initially the colonial masters were
unwilling to grant independence, despite being signatories of the Charter. Thus it was
ultimately the resolve of the local nationalist leaders that ultimately convinced them that
independence had to be granted, as waging a costly, protracted struggle against the
nationalists was no longer in the national interests of the colonial powers.
Biblio:
Yong, M.C. (2007) From Colonies to Indepenedence Nations: Selected Studies in
Southeast Asian History. Singapore: Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd. Pages 131176
Wong, H.H. (2010) Unit 4.1 Notes: Paths to Independence.
Vanessa Ow 4PE
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