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Power and Primacy

A History of Western Intervention in the Asia-Pacific

A.B. Abrams

Today the Asia-Pacific region stands on the verge of major change, with centuries of western dominated regional order being seriously challenged and quite possibly nearing its end. The emergence of a potential new order dominated by regional rather than extra-regional powers - an «Asia for the Asiatics» in the words of Japan’s pan-Asian scholars - means it is now more than ever essential to understand the history of the current western-dominated system, the full implications should it continue and the nature of the West’s intentions towards the region.

This book undertakes the task of elucidating the complex and little-known history of western intervention in the Asia-Pacific, providing information critical to understanding contemporary developments

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Introduction

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Since the expansion of the Portuguese Empire to the Asia-Pacific in the early sixteenth century the West has long been intrinsically involved in the region through the projection of its military power. By the beginning of the Second World War regional maps demonstrated the near complete dominance of Western empires over the peoples of the Asia-Pacific. The entire region, except for the Japanese Imperial territories including the home islands, Manchuria, Taiwan and Korea, was comprised of territories either subservient to the interests of Western powers or, in most cases, ruled by them directly. Much of Indonesia was known as the Dutch East Indies while Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were known as French Indochina. British Malaya, British Borneo, Hong Kong and a number of strategic islands were among other extensive British owned territories – not to mention Oceania which had almost entirely been forcefully depopulated and repopulated by European settlers. Thailand was divided between British and French spheres of influence and made a client state under the Anglo-Siamese treaty which granted Britain extensive one-sided concessions. China was similarly long subjected to ‘unequal treaties’ with and forced to grant extensive territorial concessions to Western imperial powers. The Americans ruled the Philippines and Guam as colonies, as the Portuguese ruled Macau, the Maluku Islands and East Timor among their ‘possessions.’ Germany and Spain had also formerly held extensive colonial possessions in the region – one where Asian self-determination was suppressed by the dominant military might of the West.

Direct European rule...

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