Courtesy Reuters

Reconsiderations

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

DECOLONIZATION AND INDEPENDENCE IN INDONESIA AND INDOCHINA

THE defeat of Japan in 1945 brought with it a wave of decolonization throughout East Asia. To an extent few in the West had realized, the Japanese humiliation of the white man in 1941 and 1942-together with worldwide currents at work in India and elsewhere-had prepared the way for the rapid end of colonial rule. In this process, the Philippines had only to grasp the independence already promised before the war by the United States; the same promise had been made to India under the pressure of the war, and its early realization under Lord Mountbatten and a Labour government contributed to the rapid grant of independence to Burma and the extension of believed assurances for the ultimate independence of Malaya and Singapore. Only the Netherlands East Indies-already styled by its nationalists the Republic of Indonesia-and French Indochina stood out from the first as deeply contested cases, where the colonial power was not ready to yield and where powerful nationalist movements were at work.

The possibility of a link between the two was seen at the time by at least one man. In November 1945, Ho Chi Minh, in the course of an interview with the American correspondent Harold Isaacs, sent a personal letter to the leaders of the Republic of Indonesia, proposing that the Indonesian and Vietnamese nationalist movements work closely together.

Isaacs delivered the message, and the suggestion was tempting to the idealism of Soetan Sjahrir, then Prime Minister of the Republic. It appealed especially to his younger associates, but in the end, contrary to their advice, Sjahrir's response was negative. To his associates he explained that the Indonesian movement would succeed because the Dutch could be beaten, but that the Vietnamese movement would fail for a long time because the French were too strong.[i]

And so it proved. By the summer of 1950, when Communist control of China and the Korean War combined to bring the cold war full-blown to

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