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9-08-2015, 22:45

TURMOIL, WAR AND BLOODSHED IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA

During the colonial era the armed strength of the European nations had by and large subdued factional and national struggles in south-east Asia. The British tried to leave Asia in an orderly way. Even so the partition of India was accompanied by internal upheaval and great bloodshed, and the legacy of partition was two more wars between independent India and Pakistan. Seen in terms only of British interests, the Labour government had acted wisely in disentangling Britain from direct responsibility for the conflicts of southern Asia. The Dutch attempted to hold on too long to their empire. Even after they left in December 1949, they retained West New Guinea, to which Indonesia laid claim, though its mainly Stone Age peoples were not Indonesian. After years of conflict the Dutch gave way and the renamed West Irian was transferred to Indonesia by the United Nations in 1963. The French also tried to turn the clock back and to re-establish their pre-war colonial domination, fighting a bitter war with Indo-China until 1954. Tragically for the 330 million people (1989 figure) of south-east Asia, the departure of the Europeans did not produce a more peaceful era. In what had been French Indo-China, that is Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, fighting continued for another twenty years and until the 1990s Cambodia was painfully trying to find a peaceful compromise. The devastation and impoverishment of this potentially fertile region of southeast Asia, with a population in 1989 of some 75 million, identifies the post-1945 period as the most destructive in its modern history. To the West lies the independent kingdom of Thailand, a sometimes uncertain American ally that provided bases for the US during the Vietnam War and on its borders with Laos. Thailand accepted 400,000 Khmer Rouge refugees after 1979. To the south, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia kept out of any involvement in Indo-China, not least because during 1963–6 they were locked in confrontation with each other. Indonesia, the largest and most populous of south-east Asian states with 178.2 million inhabitants in 1989, followed ambitious plans for expansion until the fall of Achmed Sukarno from power in 1967. Burma pursued a policy of non-alignment and, under the military rule of General Ne Win from 1962 to 1988, remained largely in isolation. Finally the Philippines, independent but still closely allied to the US and dependent on American assistance, made available to the US two bases, a naval base at Subic Bay and Clark Air Base for the defence of the Western Pacific; the American presence and influence was resented by a large proportion of the population as an infringement of sovereignty. In the decades since independence profound changes have occurred in each of the individual nations. In the countries that fell under Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945 – Indonesia, Malaya, Burma and Indo-China – indigenous resistance and independence movements, which continued the struggle for independence after 1945, created new balances of power. Whenever independence was achieved by armed struggle, as in Indo-China and Indonesia, the army tended to become an important factor in the subsequent power struggles, either forming an alliance with one of the political elites or taking over control itself. Southeast Asian countries have had to cope with severe development problems – just feeding a rapidly growing population was an immense challenge. Within the newly independent countries the power struggles between communists and noncommunists produced strife and civil war. Arbitrary national frontiers inherited from the colonial era were defended by those nations whose interests they served and denounced by neighbours who rejected the post-colonial settlement. The great majority of the people of south-east Asia are still poor peasants. Although degrees of state planning are common to the whole region, it is remarkable that with the exception of the former French Indo-China, no radical agrarian reforms were introduced anywhere in the region. Only the communists in Vietnam adopted ruthless collectivisation of the farms, a programme that had disastrous consequences. In the noncommunist countries of south-east Asia, the largely feudal system of landlords, peasant-owned farms and landless peasants continues. Famine and under-nourishment have afflicted the region, aggravated by its high birth rate. But better methods of cultivation (introduced in 1960 and known as the ‘green revolution’) and the increasing use of pesticides and fertilisers have enabled food to be produced faster than the population has grown. But extremes of inequality and climatic calamities have still left millions starving or near starvation. Many landless peasants have moved in desperation to the towns, with large numbers of young girls turning to prostitution. The growth of these destitute populations in the shanty towns of Third World cities has been one of the most tragic features of development. In the years after independence, Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, grew from less than 1.5 million inhabitants to over 11 million in 2000, Delhi to more than 11 million, and that of the capital of Pakistan, Karachi, rose from 1 million to nearly 12 million. Amid this waste of Asian urban poverty the contrasting exceptions stand out. One is prosperous Singapore, an island republic whose population is concentrated in the city of Singapore itself, which has grown from 1 million to over 4 million; the other is Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, whose population was barbarously driven out of the city into the countryside, where the majority perished when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces captured the city in 1975. Under the ten-year Vietnamese occupation Phnom Penh slowly recovered, achieving an estimated population in 1988 of 600,000. As if the conflict over national borders, between rival political elites and over the distribution of resources was not enough to cause bloodshed, this vast region’s ethnic and religious conflicts added to the general turmoil. Chinese and Indians have settled throughout south-east Asia. In Singapore the Chinese form the majority. In Malaysia, a Chinese communist insurrection was suppressed before independence was gained in 1963. The Tamils in Sri Lanka have continued in armed rebellion against the Sinhalese majority for decades, Indian intervention in 1987–8 to force the Tamils to surrender having failed. India itself faces severe problems in the Punjab, where extremist Sikhs demand their own state. In Burma a number of minorities turned to insurgency. The traditional rivalry between China and Vietnam has led to the Vietnamese treating their Chinese minority harshly. In the Philippines a Muslim separatist movement has grown into a major rebellion. Almost every independent south-east Asian nation has not one but several minority problems. For more than half a century, these conflicts have continued unabated. Cold War competition between the Soviet Union, China and the US turned regional conflicts into devastating warfare in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. China and the Soviet Union sought to advance their influence as well as to keep each other and the Americans out, providing weapons to rival groups of Laotian, Cambodian, North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese. The Americans alone among the major powers joined in the wars of Vietnam with combat troops. Cold War rivalries were thus superimposed on the already existing internal and intra-regional strug- gles of south-east Asia. Millions suffered the catastrophic consequences. The majority of the nations in south-east Asia were ruled by authoritarian systems of government. The very nature of Dutch and French colonialism, aggravated by the interlude of Japanese military occupation, meant that democracy and constitutional government, regular elections, an independent judiciary and basic civil freedoms, including free expression and a free press, had shallow roots. The British Empire in Asia, on the other hand, with the exception of Malaya and Burma, was spared the Japanese occupation. British colonial rule was the most enlightened, introducing some of the essential features of constitutional government. The Republic of India is the largest nation in southern Asia to have survived internal strife as a democracy; Malaysia and Singapore have done likewise. But Sri Lanka, despite a parliamentary system, is rent by civil war which was reaching exhaustion in 2005. Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh fell under authoritarian rule, and the whole of former French Indo-China, after nearly thirty years of war, had succumbed to communism. Despite widespread poverty and its manifold problems, it is remarkable that the greater part of south-east Asia has not proved fertile ground for the Chinese or Soviet communist models. There are good reasons for this. Tradition still has a firm hold in the region, which is pervaded by especially strong religious beliefs opposed to atheistic communism. And the nationalism of south-east Asian countries had to assert itself first against the Europeans, then against the Japanese and finally against the Europeans again. Another disadvantage for communism was that for a time after 1949 the only Asian great power remaining was Red China. The newly independent states did not want to fall into the hands of a new Chinese empire, a threat made all the more real by large minorities of ‘overseas Chinese’ who might act as an internally disruptive force. In the continuous internal struggles for power, furthermore, the leaders of coups were reluctant to alienate the most influential sectors of society – the middle classes and the propertied. Fundamental redistribution of wealth and agrarian reform, let alone moves towards full-blown communism, would have stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition. In this respect, as well as in many others, Burma was something of an exception. No sooner had independence come to Burma in January 1948 than internal disruption threatened to plunge the country into chaos. The British had left behind a democratic constitution modelled on Westminster, which proved unsuitable for a country so underdeveloped and so disorganised. At the time of independence, Burma was led by U Nu, an outstanding politician who managed to maintain constitutional democracy intact for ten years until 1958. It had barely survived the first four years, during which ethnic minorities and two communist groups, the Red Flags and the White Flags, collaborated and took control of central and most of southern Burma, nearly capturing Rangoon. U Nu and constitutional government were saved by the army and General Ne Win, and by the disunity of the insurgent groups, who hated each other as much as the system they were trying to overthrow. To this day, no government has achieved effective control over all the remote areas of Burma. In the wider world Burma was almost unknown except for two circumstances: U Thant, the Burmese educator and diplomat (U is an honorific title meaning ‘honourable sir’), was twice elected United Nations secretary-general, in 1962 and 1966, and served ably until 1971, during a period of severe conflict in the Third World. Burma’s more negative contribution has been the illicit traffic of opium out of the ‘golden triangle’, a tongue of remote territory spanning Burma, Laos and Cambodia. The Burmese military was at first prepared to support the constitutional government of U Nu, who was carefully edging Burma away from the West to a neutralist position. Burma had either to secure India’s firm backing or to establish good relations with its most powerful neighbour China, with which it shared a long frontier. It was the latter policy which, in the end, proved the only feasible one, unless Burma were to be caught up in the Cold War. Potentially a rich country, with resources of rice that had once made it Asia’s biggest exporter of the grain, not to mention timber and minerals, Burma’s development nevertheless languished under U Nu’s regime. One reason continues to be the protracted ethnic conflict; another was the failure of over-ambitious development plans recommended by American advisers. In 1958 the state of the country had become so serious that U Nu handed over power to his supporter, General Ne Win. Two years later Ne Win organised a general election from which U Nu emerged victorious, and Ne Win restored him to power. But having tasted supreme power, and seeing the unity of the country once more threatened, Ne Win in 1962 overthrew U Nu in a bloodless coup and abolished the constitution, convinced that only authoritarian socialism could save his country. He ruled Burma for the next twenty-six years, introducing a communist-style one-party (Burma Socialist Programme Party) authoritarian regime. Keen to find a Burmese way to socialism opposed to both communist insurgency and U Nu’s liberalism, Ne Win claimed to be following a middle way in the true Buddhist fashion. The military junta under his leadership isolated Burma, forcing it to turn its back on Western traditions. Industry and banking were nationalised, but the economy performed disastrously. In an attempt to get it moving Ne Win secured large development funds from abroad and the Burmese overseas debt soared from $231 million in 1973 to $3.8 billion in 1988. The standard of living, however, remained one of the lowest in Asia. The rice grown is hardly sufficient to feed its own population of 48 million. The patient people of Burma, who had suffered for twenty-five years from the Burmese road to socialism, began to give vent to their frustration in largely student-led riots in Rangoon in September 1987. The 77-year-old General Ne Win decided to move to the sidelines and resigned in the summer of 1988 amid signs of military disaffection. Reforms were promised. For a brief period with a civilian as its leader, detainees released and free elections promised, it looked as if Burma would move out of its self-imposed isolation and darkness. But just a month later, in September 1988, the military took over and General Saw Maung emerged at the head of a junta. The ‘restoration of law and order’ marked the beginnings of a repression against students and dissidents, brutal even by Burmese standards. As many as 3,000 pro-democracy demonstrators are believed to have been massacred. In 1989 the name of Burma was changed to Myanmar, a transliteration of the English ‘Burma’ into Burmese. Surprisingly the new military leaders promised that new political parties could register and that there would be free elections in May 1990. But they then, in the summer, placed under house arrest the most likely leaders of any opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Aung San (who played a crucial role at the birth of Burmese independence) and wife of an English lecturer at Oxford. Suu Kyi had returned to her native land to lead a new party, the National League for Democracy. It was her criticisms of Ne Win and her call for justice and democracy that led to her arrest. But to the chagrin of the junta, which had fielded its own front party, the National Unity Party, the National League for Democracy gained a clear and outright victory at the 1990 election, winning a huge majority in the Assembly. The military junta had no intention of bowing to this verdict. In 1992 Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest. The military declared that they would release her only if she left the country, which she has refused to do. For her courage and her adherence to her principles she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. There were no signs in 2005 that the junta planned to hand power over to a democratic majority. Instead, its oppressive rule continued, and campaigners against ethnic minorities, students and rebellious tribes on the north-west and north-east borders of Myanmar were fiercely pursued. A new campaign against Muslim groups in the south-west led to a flood of refugees escaping to Bangladesh. But, despite its appalling human rights records, Myanmar was not shunned by the international community, which valued its resources and its market. Oil companies were prospecting and concluding joint production agreements, and the country was being opened increasingly to foreign investment. Trade with Thailand grew with particular rapidity. Aung San Suu Kyi’s rearrest after a period of ‘dialogue’ finally led the US to try to lead an international trade embargo. If the Burmese people were free, Aung Suu Kyi would lead a return to representative rule and an end to the military dictatorship. It was the general’s feelings of insecurity after Aung Suu Kyi’s obviously popular public reception that decided them to ensure her disappearance from public view. From time to time the Junta tried to negotiate releasing Aung San Suu Kyi but never gave up power. Indonesia is the largest country in south-east Asia, with more inhabitants than Britain and united Germany combined. Yet the only one of its 3,600 islands, extending over 3,000 miles of ocean from east to west, that has captured the popular imagination is Bali. The great majority of the people are Muslims, but there are many ethnic groups, and the unity of this far-flung nation of islands is based on centuries of Dutch empire building rather than on the homogeneity of the people or on common attitudes. Two men held continuous power from independence in 1949 to the mid- 1980s, Achmed Sukarno and General Suharto. Following independence, constitutional government lasted only until 1958. At least outwardly it had been based on Western parliamentary models, but Sukarno, the first president, chafed under its restrictions and used the army to undermine parliamentary and political development. Parliamentary-style government had not worked well. None of the then existing four parties, including the Communist Party, the largest in south-east Asia, had been able to establish a commanding lead. Uneasy coalition governments regularly fell apart. The loyalties of the population were in any case regional and local. Sukarno had to cope with a series of rebellions in the outer islands, and in 1958 with a military insurgency in Sumatra. Political rivalry and widespread corruption did nothing to foster national pride. Sukarno attempted to fashion a national image, an Indonesian identity that increasingly rejected the West. The constitutional façade had at least served the purpose of encouraging Western development aid, as in 1952 when Indonesia participated in the Commonwealth Colombo Plan. Sukarno accepted Western aid and in 1960 Soviet assistance as well. Championing a Third World approach to global problems, he hosted in 1955 the Afro-Asian Bandung Conference, attended by Nehru and Zhou Enlai, but it was regarded with great suspicion in Washington, where a stance of non-alignment was interpreted as anti-Western and pro-communist. Sukarno’s rule was supported by both the Communist Party and the anticommunist army. Although Khrushchev saw an opportunity to extend Soviet influence, neither Moscow nor Washington knew how to assess Sukarno’s Indonesia, as he cleverly played the Cold War game, benefiting from both sides. In 1958 Sukarno moved to an authoritarian form of government, within a short time stifling the influence of constitutional safeguards such as the elected parliament, the political parties, the independent judiciary and the press. He became the supreme leader of his ‘guided democracy’. Meanwhile, two powerful factions watched each other warily, the communists and the military. Most of the military approved of Sukarno’s coup. Then, in October 1965, in what was the most violent convulsion in Indonesian politics, the communists murdered six generals. What really occurred has never been properly clarified. Was it really the beginning of an attempted communist coup? The army reacted with savagery and staged its own coup against Sukarno. General Suharto, one of those not on the assassination list, emerged as Indonesia’s strongman. Over the next few months communist supporters were killed in a bloodbath that may have seen more than half a million dead. Suharto effectively took control, though Sukarno remained president until replaced by Suharto. In world affairs Sukarno had emerged as a charismatic Third World leader, loud in his denunciation of Western imperialism and strident in promoting Indonesian nationalism. This impeded economic development as he tried to run Indonesia without Dutch technical assistance. Later efforts to encourage Dutch and international investment foundered in the face of his conflict with the Dutch over the future of the western part of New Guinea, West Irian, which the Dutch did not cede until 1963. In south-east Asia Sukarno pursued expansionist policies, in particular adopting a stance of confrontation with Malaysia. He denounced the Malaysian Federation as a Western colonial outpost. For a time in 1963 and 1964, with Indonesia promoting armed incidents, there seemed to be a real threat of war between the two countries. Hastily assembled Commonwealth troops, British, Australian, New Zealand and Malaysian, set up an effective defence force that deterred Sukarno from further provocation. Suharto’s military coup of 1965 was nonetheless greeted with relief by the West. General Suharto and the military had virulently opposed the communists long before they massacred hundreds of thousands of them on taking control of the country in October 1965. Reflecting this opposition internationally, Suharto dropped Sukarno’s friendships with China and the Soviet Union and reorientated to the West. With fears prompted by the Vietnam conflict of a communist takeover of the whole of south-east Asia, the US supplanted the Soviet Union as the arms supplier and provider of foreign aid to Indonesia. The country was opened to Western enterprise, but, despite its plentiful resources and even though in the 1970s it became the largest oil producer in Asia, corruption and inefficiency marred its economic development, so that it remained a poor Third World country. State planning largely failed to remedy the gross disparity between the wealth of a minority and the poverty of the majority; loans were not properly applied; and Indonesia’s foreign debt rose enormously, swallowing up nearly a third of all export earnings in 1991, despite considerable expansion of oil and gas exports in the 1980s. In the late 1980s the regime began a policy of liberalisation from state control. In external affairs, Indonesia’s relations with its Malaysian neighbours and with Singapore were generally easier than they had been during Sukarno’s era. Indonesia is a member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which, although not a well-functioning organisation, has done something to promote trade and peace. At the end of the 1980s Indonesia also played a more positive role internationally in helping to broker the peace agreement finally reached in Cambodia. But General Suharto did not abandon Indonesian expansionism. Among the worst atrocities in south-east Asian history was Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, which the Portuguese had left in December 1975. The invaders crushed the movement for an independent East Timor with such brutality that a fifth of the population of some 700,000 were either killed or disappeared. Nonetheless, independence as an ideal was not abandoned by the politically active in East Timor. Attention was once more focused on Indonesia’s military when a peaceful demonstration on 28 October 1991 led to the killing of many demonstrators, amid worldwide condemnation. Within Indonesia, insurgencies on some of the islands were no less brutally suppressed, with the tacit support of the majority, who preferred military rule to continual strife and bloodshed provoked by the minority insurgents. Suharto’s military rule allowed no opposition or constitutional development, nor did his modification of Sukarno’s ‘guided democracy’ liberalise the authoritarian government of the country. All effective power was concentrated in his hands, and even the discarding of his uniform could not disguise the truth that his rule was based on military force. Periodically ‘re-elected’ as president by a carefully controlled and largely ceremonial parliament, he brought a certain stability after the hectic Sukarno years. But the increasing wealth of a small middle class and the rising discontent of students occasioned a questioning of authoritarian rule. Here, as in the rest of Asia, the wind of change was blowing, albeit very gently. Stability and national unity were the watchwords of the junta, repression the means of achieving them, whether combating communism, (non-Indonesian) nationalism or the demands of fundamental Muslim groups. That strategy left little scope for the development of civilian democratic rule. The stability provided by an authoritarian military regime also encouraged the developed world to invest in Indonesia. In the early 1990s President Suharto and the army attempted to present a more liberal image to the outside world by allowing some political activity and trying to appease more moderate Muslims after years of preventing Islam from playing any role in state politics. These were but small beginnings. Throughout south-east Asia the economic crash of 1997 threatened political stability and authoritarian leaders. One of the worst affected by the economic debacle was Indonesia. Public anger turned on Suharto and his corruption and nepotism. In May 1998 he was forced out of office. The elected regimes following Suharto’s fall were unable to master the turbulence into which Indonesia descended. After the fall of Suharto, the old, halfparalysed vice-president, B. J. Habibie became president. The elections of 1999 removed from power the Golkar Party, the subservient supporters of the corrupt Suharto and of Habibie with close ties to the powerful military. A new era appeared to open with the victory of the supporters of Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno the founder of Indonesia. Megawati has been cautious in adopting fundamental economic and democratic reforms to rid the country of corruption. Golkar remained a power in the land. Trying to govern the largest Muslim country in the world riddled with ethnic and religious strife and regions fighting for independence at the same time as with an economy trying to recover from meltdown is not a good opening for the new democracy. Megawati, aloof in public contact, is no charismatic leader. Indonesia is an overwhelmingly moderate Muslim country but radical Islam has made inroads. There are likely links between extremist terrorist groups and al-Qaeda. An attack on a night club frequented by Westerners in the tourist paradise of Bali on 12 October 2002 killed an estimated 190 young men and women, almost half of whom had come from Australia. Megawati has not cracked down on radical Muslim groups although emergency powers are in place. Her judgement is that this would only add to the strife in her country. Megawati was ousted in October 2004 at the first direct presidential elections. Indonesia has become a vibrant democracy with 80 per cent casting their vote. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired general, was elected. Daunting challenges face him: slow economic growth, high unemployment, corruption, ethnic violence in Aceh and Papua and the threat of militant Muslim terrorism. But with huge resources there are prospects for a better future for the people. World attention was drawn to Indonesia in 1999 when people of East Timor were promised by Habibie a plebiscite to decide on whether to remain in Indonesia or become independent. A guerrilla movement had struggled for independence since the invasion of the former Portuguese colony by the Indonesian marines on 7 December 1975. The harsh struggle had cost thousands of lives. When the new, elected government of Indonesia, twenty-four years later in September 1999, offered the plebiscite organised by the UN, the people of East Timor voted by a large majority for their independence. The consequence was a rampage of destruction and killings by militia organised by the Indonesian army out of Jakarta’s control. A quarter of the population of about 800,000 fled, a few found refuge in the UN compound guarded by the helpless UN monitors. The capital Dili was practically razed to the ground. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 may have lost their lives. Television broadcasts spread news of the horror around the world and galvanised the members of the United Nations. An Australianled UN peacekeeping force restored order and the UN set up a transitional administration. For Habibie the East Timor disaster was the nail in the coffin for his presidential hopes of being elected. For East Timor it was a new beginning. Reconstruction was assisted by able UNappointed administrators and by financial aid to help the people living at little more than subsistence level. The early years of independence were fraught with difficulty. The minority of East Timorese who supported the Indonesians fled to West Timor. Democratic politics are in their infancy after a constitution was framed and elections in 2001. The president and one time leader of the independence struggle José Gusmáo is a widely respected force for moderation but shares power with a prime minister of far more radical bent. In May 2002 the transitional administration came to an end and East Timor gained its full indendence. Its current poverty will be transformed when the Australian–East Timor agreement to exploit the oil and gas in the offshore fields of the Timor Gap brings rich royalties to the nation. It must not be dissipated like the oil riches of Nigeria if East Timor is to develop over the next generation. East Timor’s success in breaking away from Indonesia encouraged other independent movements. The longest running and most serious is on the province of Aceh inhabited by 4.3 million people on the most north-westerly tip of Sumatra. It has gone on as long as East Timor’s struggle, with an active guerrilla movement. Ceasefires have come and gone. The military are determined to resist complete independence and the resistance will accept nothing less. In 2003 the army once more resorted to force with tanks and bombers. Strongman rule like Suharto’s bred corruption, economic decline and human rights abuses. In the more recent democratic era there have been ethnic clashes, violence, attempted bloody suppression and weak leadership. There is no national consensus on Indonesia’s future. Without British and Commonwealth support Malaysia, with its relatively small population, could not have stood up to Indonesian pressure in the early 1960s, though its resources of rubber, tin and timber make it one of the wealthiest countries of south-east Asia. Like some other former British colonies, Malaysia followed a constitutional, democratic path after attaining independence in 1957, but it faced severe problems of national unity from the start. The feudal Malay princes were jealous of their ceremonial powers. Worse still, the country was divided into three distinct ethnic groups: the Malays formed the majority, but the Chinese, who were almost as numerous, were the wealthiest and most dynamic group; third, there was a relatively small group of ethnic Indians. The solution was to share power between all three in an Alliance Party. It was dominated by the most distinguished statesman Malaya had produced, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the father of independence. A conservative but tolerant prime minister from 1957 to 1970, Abdul Rahman upheld democratic and constitutional government and supported an independent judiciary and a free press. Nevertheless, the tension between the Malays and the Chinese could not always be contained. The policies designed to compensate the Malays for their disadvantaged position bred resentment among the Chinese. Communal riots forced on the country two brief emergencies when democratic rights were suspended. But, even with renewed communist insurgencies after the communist victories in Vietnam in 1975, there was always a return to constitutional government and free elections. The differences between the Chinese and Malays also led to the break-up of an expanded Federation of Malaysia, which included the two North Bornean colonies and Singapore. The Chinese predominated in Singapore, and the party working for independence, the People’s Action Party, was led by Lee Kuan Yew, who originally suggested to Abdul Rahman the plan for the federation of the territories. It came into being in 1963, and Britain transferred to it control of Singapore and the two North Bornean territories. The Philippines protested and put forward their own claims to North Borneo. More serious was the confrontation with Indonesia. Between 1964 and 1965 fighting sporadically broke out as the federation moved to defend its territories. In 1965 Lee Kuan Yew withdrew Singapore from the Malaysian Federation to form an independent republic within the Commonwealth. Thereafter he won every election until his retirement in 1990. His authoritarian paternalism significantly interfered with constitutional government, while his puritanism kept Singapore singularly free from crime, drugs and sexual licence, which he regarded as decadent features of the Western way of life. Without natural resources, except fish, Singapore has been transformed into the financial and industrial centre of south-east Asia, its population of 2.5 million enjoying the highest standard of living in the region (with the exception of the fortunate people of Brunei, whose wealth comes not from their work but from oil). In these respects it compares with Hong Kong. Singapore demonstrates the astonishing rise from poverty that has transformed the countries of the Pacific Rim since 1945 – Singapore, Taiwan, Japan (the economic superpower) and South Korea. Malaysian wealth depends more on the world prices of its natural resources. With its fine educational system and well-trained, British-oriented judiciary, the roots of democratic government seemed to have struck more deeply here than elsewhere in the region. With the Alliance Party in disarray, Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister since 1981, claimed that the communist and Chinese threat in the early 1990s required increasing vigilance. In 1987 he invoked a security act to imprison many opponents. More ominously, he harassed and weakened the judiciary and so placed a question mark over Malaysia’s democratic constitutional future. By 1993 repression had not resulted in a serious Chinese backlash; but, even if there were one, the great majority of Chinese Malays would not support the Chinese or Vietnamese communists in the north. Dr Mahathir retained control throughout the crisis of 1997 and 1998, blaming it on the West instead of on the imprudent spending of Malayan business. But the West was, in part, to blame for recklessly supplying loans for unproductive development. As time went on, Dr Mahathir become more authoritarian, his last years were marred by the abuses of the judicial process as he sought to imprison those who opposed him or fell out with him over policy. The most notorious case was the conviction of the most likely successor to Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim, convicted in 1999 of corruption and sodomy and sentenced to six and nine years in prison. His wife now leads an opposition movement. After twenty-two years in power, Mahathir announced with tears in his eyes his intentions to retire and did so in October 2003. There are elections but democracy is flawed when emergency legislation can be invoked to detain active politicians in opposition. In many ways Malaysia is a remarkable country; Muslim and secular, tolerant of all religions and, during the last two decades, successfully overcoming the dangers of ethnic conflict between the wealthier Chinese community and the Malays, unlike what occurred in Indonesia in 1998. The Malays make up just over half of the 23 million population, the Chinese about a quarter and Indians less than ten per cent. Positive discrimination has raised the educational level and standard of living of the Malays. The cloud over the future is the spread of more militant Islam which Dr Mahathir with some concessions succeeded in containing. Malaysia is not yet a fully developed nation, the majority of its people are still only on the path to becoming the ‘fully developed country’ in Mahathir’s ‘Vision 2020’ that he set out as a goal in 1992. Mahathir’s chosen successor, Abdullah Badawi, his deputy prime minister, lacks his authority and style. In facing Malaysia’s future, Mahathir’s premiership will be a hard act to follow despite all its shortcomings. Siam, renamed Thailand in 1949, is one of the five relatively prosperous states of south-east Asia, the others being Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. With a population of over 50 million in the 1980s, Thailand possesses rich resources, principally tin, wolfram, rubber and rice. In the capital, Bangkok, a downtown commercial centre and some factories stand cheek by jowl along its hundreds of canals with shanty dwellings lacking sanitation. In the West and in Japan, Thailand achieved notoriety for encouraging tourists attracted by the unrestricted nature of its prostitution, which catered for all varieties of Western and Eastern tastes. AIDS is now rampant in the sex bazaars, threatening the lucrative tourism and, worse, the country’s population. Every new ruler and government promised to clean up Thailand, referring not to this specialised tourism, but to widespread administrative corruption. Thailand is a monarchy, but power is exercised by a group of generals who periodically engage in coups against each other. By 1993 there had been six such successful coups since 1945 and numerous unsuccessful attempts. On three occasions the military handed the government back to civilian control, but never for very long. Consequently, parliamentary democracy had little opportunity to develop. Thailand and Japan were the only Asian countries to escape colonisation by one of the European powers, but Thailand lost some of its territory in the nineteenth century to Laos and Cambodia, then French Indo-China. Thailand’s geographical position poses particular problems for its foreign policy, for it cannot afford too many enemies simultaneously. It has borders with five countries. To the north and west lies Burma, with which it cultivates good relations. To the south-west is Malaysia, with which it shares anticommunist interests and a desire to avoid being drawn into war. Thailand’s problems emerge on its north-eastern borders with Laos and its south- eastern borders with Cambodia, both of which countries were threatened with communist insurgencies in the 1960s. A communist (Pathet Lao) takeover of Laos with North Vietnamese support was a particular danger, as there are about three times as many Laotian-speaking inhabitants within Thailand (more than 8 million) as in Laos itself. Thailand provided support and bases for US troops in the Vietnam War during the 1960s, but was critical of America’s reluctance to fight communism in Laos with determination. It viewed the international agreement to neutralise Laos in 1962 as merely a step in the direction of a complete communist takeover. Thailand’s worst fears were realised in 1973 when the US pulled out of the war in Vietnam; two years later communism was victorious in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. But in the 1980s civil wars continued to be fought in neighbouring Cambodia, with most of the country occupied until 1989 by Vietnam. In the early 1990s Thailand found itself the unenthusiastic host of some 400,000 refugees who had crossed its eastern borders, though its borders remained secure. The US in SEATO (1955) and subsequent declarations pledged itself to defend Thailand, but in 1976 as part of a general withdrawal from southeast Asia gave up its Thai bases. A leading member of ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations, founded in 1967, Thailand hoped with its four partners, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, to maintain the existing peace. But its best protection was an unexpected one: the disunity, confusion and, latterly, collapse in the communist world. Of all countries involved in civil wars, bloodshed and great-power conflicts, no country, not even Vietnam, suffered as much as Cambodia. Under Japanese control from 1941 to 1945 the country came into being on the eve of Japan’s defeat in March 1945, when King Norodom Sihanouk proclaimed Cambodia’s independence. After the French had returned, Sihanouk placed himself at the head of the national movement and succeeded in extracting full French independence for his small kingdom (5 million inhabitants in 1954). By then the king had to contend with communist rivals supported by the North Vietnamese. Sihanouk attempted to rescue the country by creating a neutralist coalition, which might also help prevent internal rivalries from wrenching the country apart. From 1945 to 1970 he was the most respected Cambodian politician, and in order to play an effective part in politics he took the unusual step of giving up his throne to his father. He then (1955) presented himself as humble Mr Sihanouk, though he continued to be known as ‘Prince’. Realising early on that North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao were likely to prove the stronger in the war, he abandoned America and the West to seek the friendship of China in the 1960s. He was powerless to prevent the North Vietnamese from using the Ho Chi-minh trail in Cambodian border territories for moving troops and supplies from the communist North to South Vietnam. But his pro- Chinese, pro-communist stance was unwelcome to the US, and while in Beijing in 1970 he was overthrown; with American support, Lon Nol took control of the royal government in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. This marked the end of any hope that Cambodia might achieve neutrality: it was invaded by American and South Vietnamese troops intent on destroying the Vietnamese communist bases and supply lines on the borders, which were also bombed. In Beijing, Sihanouk now threw in his lot with the Khmer Rouge communist opposition. American policy in Cambodia proved a disastrous failure, and after the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973 there was no possibility that Congress would have accepted a new military commitment in Cambodia. Deprived of US combat support, the Lon Nol regime could not survive the onslaught of communist forces, so when the Americans finally left, the Khmer Rouge easily captured Phnom Penh in April 1975 and took over the whole country. Had the Americans not turned against Sihanouk, one of the cleverest and wiliest of south-east Asian leaders, Cambodia might have been spared the almost unbelievable horrors that followed. Sihanouk was now practically a prisoner in Khmer Rouge hands; for a short while he served as a useful figurehead, but the infamous Khmer Rouge leader, known as Pol Pot, wielded total power. He forced the inhabitants of Phnom Penh to march into the countryside, where most of the helpless urban population perished. A campaign of genocide was directed against all intellectuals and educated Cambodians who might have resisted his fanatical communist regime. No one knows exactly how many hundreds of thousands perished in the notorious killing fields, now preserved as national shrines. Possibly it was as many as 2 million, but up to one-third of the population has disappeared; Cambodia’s population declined from some 7.5 to 5.5 million. To satisfy their own ambitions the communist Vietnamese put an end to Pol Pot’s bloodthirsty regime by invading Cambodia, which had been renamed Kampuchea, in December 1978 and setting up a government under their control. A large Vietnamese army occupied most of the country until 1989, when the invaders at last withdrew. It had proved a costly intervention, and the puppet regime was not recognised by the West. It was true that the Vietnamese could not but be an immense improvement on Pol Pot’s murderers, but south-east Asia’s non-communist countries fear a powerful Vietnam far more than they fear the Khmer Rouge. Disgracefully, the Khmer Rouge, part of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, were for a long time recognised as representing Kampuchea at the United Nations. The search for a peaceful settlement in Kampuchea was long and arduous. The opportunity arose only with the ending of the Cold War. It was now also in China’s and Russia’s interests to liquidate the civil war in Kampuchea. In January 1990 an Australian peace plan was accepted as a basis for a settlement by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including of course the former Cold War contestants, the US, China and the Soviet Union. A peace accord between the Kampuchean factions brokered by the United Nations was subsequently signed in Paris on 23 October 1991. It would allow the genocidal Khmer Rouge to participate in a transitional administration called the Supreme National Council. Some 400,000 refugees on the Thai– Kampuchean border were to return home, and they would swell the support the Khmer Rouge could claim. In 1991 Prince Sihanouk returned to his palace in Phnom Penh and an advance party of UN officials arrived. The United Nations took on a supervisory role as ‘transitional authority’ to run the main ministries, enforce an arms embargo and ensure the demobilisation of the rival armies – the 35,000 Khmer Rouge guerrillas, the 18,000- strong Sihanouk National Army and 8,000 troops of the anti-communist National Liberation Front, who together formed the ‘national resistance coalition’. The UN held elections in 1993 but the Khmer Rouge refused to participate. A huge international peace effort, which required funding by the wealthier nations to the tune of over $2 billion, 16,000 UN troops and 5,000 civilians, was undertaken under the auspices of a UN ‘transitional authority’. The two largest parties came to a power-sharing agreement with two co-prime members until July 1997 when their power struggle ended in fighting in Phnom Penh, the royalist Norodom Ranaddh was driven out and Hun Sen and the People’s Party assumed sole power. The events illustrated once again how despite a tremendous international effort, democracy and representative government cannot simply be imposed from above where the culture and history is so alien to it. It can only be nurtured over a longer time span. But Cambodia has become more stable. After Pol Pot’s death in 1998, the Khmer Rouge ceased as an effective opposition military force. To overcome international criticism Hun Sen held new elections in 1998, a coalition was formed again with the royalists but Hun Sen remained in firm control. The people remain attached to their old king who chose to live in Beijing advising his countrymen from afar. A country of great contradictions, Kampuchea is a communist kingdom.

 

 

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