Decolonisation of Asia

The decolonization of Asia was the gradual growth of independence movements in Asia, leading ultimately to the retreat of foreign powers and the creation of a number of nation-states in the region. A number of events were catalysts for this shift, most importantly the Second World War. Prior to World War II, some countries (e.g. the Philippines in 1898) had already proclaimed independence.


European powers began colonizing Asia in the early 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese seizure of sites along the west coast of India, Ceylon and Malacca. In 1511, Portugal established a permanent base in Malacca. In 1565, Spain commenced its colonization of the Philippine Islands, creating a long sea trade route via Mexico to Spain.

The decline of Spain and Portugal in the 17th century paved the way for other European powers, namely the Netherlands, France and England. Portugal would lose influence in all but three of its colonies, Portuguese India, Macau and Timor.

By the end of the 17th century, the Dutch had taken over much of the old Portuguese colonies, and had established a strong presence in present-day Indonesia, with colonies in Aceh, Bantam, Makassar and Jakarta. The Dutch also had trade links with Siam, Japan, China and Bengal.

The British had competed with Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch for their interests in Asia since the early 17th century, and by the mid-19th century held much of India (via the British East India Company), as well as Burma, Ceylon, Malaya and Singapore. After India's First War of Independence of 1857, Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India, thus solidifying the British rule on the subcontinent. The last British acquisition in Asia was the New Territories of Hong Kong, which was leased from the Qing emperor in 1897, expanding the British colony originally ceded in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842.

The French had little success in India following defeats against the British in the 17th century, though they held onto possessions on the east coast of India (such as Pondicherry and Mahar) until decolonisation. The French established their most lucrative and substantial colony in Indochina from 1862, eventually occupying the present-day areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia by 1887.

Japan's first colony was the island of Taiwan, occupied in 1874 and officially ceded by the Qing emperor in 1894. Japan continued its early imperialism with the annexation of Korea in 1910.

The United States entered the region in 1898 during the Spanish–American War, taking the Philippines as its sole colony through a mock battle in the capital and the purchase of the Philippines from Spain after the declaration of independence and the First Philippine Republic.

Asian colonies from the 19th century to the end of the Second World War

The following list shows the colonial powers following the end of World War II in 1945, their colonial or administrative possessions, and date of decolonization.

Individual countries


See Burma's colonial era.

Burma was almost completely occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War. Many Burmese fought alongside Japan in the initial stages of the war, though the Burmese Army and most Burmese switched sides in 1945.

A transitional government sponsored by the British government was formed in the years following the Second World War, ultimately leading to Burma's independence in January 1948.


See Cambodia's passage to independence.

Following the capitulation of France and the formation of the Vichy regime, France's Indochinese possessions were given to Japan. While there was some argument that Indochina should not be returned to France, particularly from the United States, Cambodia nevertheless remained under French rule after the end of hostilities.

France had placed Norodom Sihanouk on the throne in 1941, and were hoping for a puppet monarch. They were mistaken however, as the King led the way to Cambodian independence in 1953, taking advantage of the background of the First Indochina War being fought in Vietnam.


See Ceylon and independence.

Ceylon was an important base of operations for the Western Allies during the Second World War. The British gave in to popular pressure for independence and in February 1948, the country won its independence as the Dominion of Ceylon.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was returned to the United Kingdom following its occupation by the Japanese during the Second World War. It was controlled directly by a British governor until the expiry of the hundred-year lease, which occurred in 1997. From that date the territory was controlled as a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.


The Philippines unilaterally declared independence from Spain on 12 June 1898 under the leadership of President Emilio Aguinaldo, culminating the 1896 Revolution. Unbeknownst to the newly established government and the Filipino people in general, the United States of America had secretly arranged to purchase the colony along with several other possessions from Spain through the Treaty of Paris that concluded the Spanish–American War. After staging a mock battle in Manila, the Philippine–American War ensued until the Philippine government capitulated in 1902.

The Philippines subsequently underwent successive stages of rule under the United States, first as an unincorporated territory, then as a Commonwealth. It was then occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War and, after the Allied victory in 1945, granted full independence by the United States on 4 July 1946.


The "colonial power" and "colonial name" columns are merged when required to denote territories, where current countries are established, that have not been de-colonised, but achieved independence in different ways.

Country[1] Colonial name Colonial power[2] Independence declared[3] First head of state[4] War for independence
 Japan Establishment under the first Legendary Emperor 11 February 660 BC Emperor Jimmu -
 Thailand Establishment as the Kingdom of Sukhothai 1238 Sri Indraditya -
 Turkey Established in Anatolia of the Seljuks of Anatolia 1299[5] Osman I
 China[6] Overthrow of Mongol rule over China 23 January 1368[7] Hongwu Emperor Red Turban Rebellion
 Russia Duchy of Moscow terminates Mongol vassalage 8 September 1380 Dmitry of Moscow Battle of Kulikovo
 Iran Establishment under the Safavid dynasty 1502 Ismail I -
 Bhutan Establishment as the Kingdom of Bhutan 1616 Ngawang Namgyal -
   Nepal Unification as the  Kingdom of Nepal 21 December 1768 Prithvi Narayan -
 Saudi Arabia Arabia  Ottoman Empire 1824 Turki bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Reconquest of Riyadh
 Philippines Spanish Empire Spanish East Indies  Spanish Empire 12 June 1898 Emilio Aguinaldo -[8]
 Yemen[9] Kingdom of Yemen
Colony and Protectorate of Aden
 Ottoman Empire
 British Empire
1 November 1918
30 November 1967
Yahya I
Qahtan Mohammed al-Shaabi
World War I
Aden Emergency
 Afghanistan Afghanistan  British Empire 19 August 1919 Amānullāh Khān Third Anglo-Afghan War
 Mongolia  Republic of China  Republic of China 9 July 1921 Bogd Khan Outer Mongolian Revolution
 Iraq Kingdom of Iraq Mesopotamia mandate  Ottoman Empire
 British Empire
3 October 1932 Faisal I Iraqi revolt against the British
 Lebanon Greater Lebanon  Ottoman Empire
8 November 1943 Bechara Khoury -
 Syria Mandate of Syria 30 November 1943 Shukri al-Quwatli Syrian Revolution
 Jordan  Transjordan mandate  Ottoman Empire
 British Empire
25 May 1946 Abdullah I -
 Philippines  Commonwealth of the Philippines  United States 4 July 1946 Manuel Roxas
 Pakistan  British Raj  British Empire 14 August 1947[10] Muhammad Ali Jinnah -[11]
 India 15 August 1947[12] Jawaharlal Nehru -[13]
 Burma Myanmar British Burma 4 January 1948 Sao Shwe Thaik -
 Sri Lanka  Dominion of Ceylon 4 February 1948
22 February 1972
Don Senanayake -
 Israel  Mandatory Palestine  Ottoman Empire
 British Empire
14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion 1948 Palestine war
 South Korea Japan Korea under Japanese rule  Japan 15 August 1948[14] Rhee Syung-man Division of Korea in World War II
 North Korea 9 September 1948[14] Kim Tu-bong Division of Korea in World War II
 Indonesia[15]  Dutch East Indies  Netherlands 17 August 1945[16] Sukarno Indonesian National Revolution
 Egypt[17]  Kingdom of Egypt  British Empire 1922/1936/1953 n/a Urabi Revolt, Suez Crisis
 Cambodia  French Indochina  France 17 October 1953 Norodom Sihanouk -
 Laos 1 August 1954 Sisavang Vong First Indochina War
 Vietnam[18] 1 August 1954 Hồ Chí Minh
Bảo Đại
First Indochina War
 Malaysia  Malaya
Colony of North Borneo
Colony of Sarawak
 British Empire 31 August 1957
16 September 1963
Tuanku Abdul Rahman Malayan Emergency[19]
 Cyprus British Cyprus 16 August 1960 Makarios III -[20]
 Kuwait  Kuwait 19 June 1961 Abdullah III Al-Salim Al-Sabah -
 Oman  Muscat and Oman[21]  Portugal
 British Empire
26 January 1650
Sultan I bin Saif
Said bin Taimur
Night attack on Muscat
 Singapore  Straits Settlements  British Empire
31 August 1963;
9 August 1965[23]
Yusof Ishak -
 Maldives Maldives  British Empire 26 July 1965 Muhammad Fareed Didi -
 Bangladesh Pakistan East Pakistan  British Empire
16 December 1971 Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Bangladesh Liberation War
 Qatar  Qatar  British Empire 3 September 1971 Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani -
 United Arab Emirates  Trucial States 2 December 1971[24] Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan -
 Bahrain  Bahrain 16 December 1971 Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa -[25]
 Brunei  Brunei 1 January 1984 Hassanal Bolkiah -[26]
 Hong Kong  British Hong Kong  British Empire 1 July 1997 Tung Chee-hwa -
 Macau Portuguese Macau  Portugal 20 December 1999 Edmund Ho -
 Timor-Leste[27]  Portuguese Timor  Portugal
28 November 1975;
20 May 2002[28]
Francisco Xavier do Amaral;
Xanana Gusmão
Carnation Revolution;
Indonesian occupation
 Palestine[29]</ref>  Mandatory Palestine
 Occupied Palestinian Territories[38]
 Ottoman Empire
 British Empire
15 May 1948;
independence not yet effectuated[30]
Mahmoud Abbas
1948 Palestine war;
Israeli–Palestinian conflict

See also


  1. Timeline list arranged according to current countries. Explanatory notes are added in cases where decolonization was achieved jointly or where the current state is formed by merger of previously decolonized states.
  2. Some territories changed hands multiple times, so in the list is mentioned the last colonial power. In addition to it the mandatory or trustee powers are mentioned for territories that were League of Nations mandates and United Nations trust territories.
  3. Date of decolonization. Dates for territories annexed by or integrated into previously decolonized independent countries are given in separate notes. Subsequent mergers, secessions and civil and other wars in the period after decolonization and the resulting states and federations are not part of this list - see the list of sovereign states by formation date.
  4. First head of state after independence. For current and former Commonwealth realms instead of first head of state is listed the first head of government.
  5. Turkey succeeded the Ottoman Empire on 24 July 1923 following the Turkish War of Independence against some of the Entente Powers of World War I.
  6. After the overthrow of Mongol rule China was organized under the Ming Dynasty, to be succeeded by the Qing Dynasty, then by the Republic of China and that is competing to present day with the People's Republic of China.
  7. China has endured many modifications to its territory. Some of these include the establishment of small foreign concessions and colonies by European states (Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Russia), Japan (including larger territories like Manchukuo) and the United States. The last of these territories, Hong Kong and Macau were returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 and 1999 by Britain and Portugal respectively. Because of the Chinese Civil War since 1 October 1949 there are two competing governments of China - one with de facto control over the island of Taiwan (RoC) and the other - over the mainland (PRC).
  8. In the 1896-19 period there were the Philippine Revolution and Philippine–American War Prior to American invasion and annexation, the country declared independence from Spain during 1898.
  9. North Yemen and South Yemen were unified into the Republic of Yemen on 22 May 1990.
  10. As the Dominion of Pakistan.
  11. See Pakistan Movement.
  12. Subsequently, a free and sovereign India unilaterally annexed Hyderabad State from a local ruler in 1948 and Goa from Portugal in 1961; Puducherry was ceded by France in 1954.
  13. See Indian independence movement and Goa liberation movement.
  14. 1 2 The Korea peninsula was liberated from Japan on 15 August 1945. The southern half was put under United States administration until 15 August 1948. The northern half was put under Soviet administration until 9 September 1948.
  15. Transcontinental country, partially located in Oceania.
  16. Netherlands New Guinea was separated from the Dutch East Indies on 29 December 1950. Following skirmishes with Indonesia in 1961 and the New York Agreement, the Netherlands transferred authority of Dutch New Guinea to a UN protectorate on 1 October 1962 and it was integrated into Indonesia on 1 May 1963.
  17. Transcontinental country, partially located in Africa.
  18. North Vietnam proclaimed independence on 2 September 1945 as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The State of Vietnam declared independence on 14 June 1949, but remained de facto under French rule until 1 August 1954. South Vietnam was the successor state to the State of Vietnam under the name of Republic of Vietnam. Both parts of Vietnam merged into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on 30 April 1975, after the Vietnam War.
  19. The Malayan Communist Party fought in the Malayan Emergency between June 1948 – 12 July 1960.
  20. Armed struggles by the EOKA (Greek) and TMT (Turkish) organizations.
  21. Muscat and Oman was de facto a British protectorate. On 4 June 1856, the Sultan who ruled from Stone Town, Zanzibar, died without appointing an heir. With British intervention on 6 April 1861, Zanzibar and Oman were divided into two separate principalities. Zanzibar later became a formal British protectorate, but the British influence over Muscat and Oman remained informal. In 1962 Britain declared Muscat and Oman an independent nation.
  22. See the Dhofar Rebellion defeated with British help.
  23. Between 16 September 1963 and 9 August 1965 Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaysia.
  24. The independent UAE was joined by Ras al-Khaimah on 11 February 1972.
  25. See March Intifada of 1965.
  26. The Brunei Revolt was a rebellion against the sultan suppressed with British assistance in 1966.
  27. Transcontinental country]], located in Oceania, but sometimes considered Asian.
  28. Independence was declared on 28 November 1975, but nine days later began the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Independence was restored after UN intervention from 25 October 1999 till 20 May 2002.
  29. In 1948 the Palestinian territories were divided between Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Following decades of Arab–Israeli conflict the State of Palestine was proclaimed in 1988 by the Palestine Liberation Organization, but its control over the West Bank and Gaza (through the Palestinian National Authority) is still limited by Israel.[30] See also Israeli-occupied territories.
  30. 1 2 Israel allows the PNA to execute some functions in the Palestinian territories, depending on the area classification. It maintains minimal interference (retaining control of borders: air,[31] sea beyond internal waters,[31][32] land[33]) in the Gaza Strip (its interior and Egypt portion of the land border are under Hamas control), and varying degrees of interference elsewhere.[34][35][36][37]<ref>Salih, Zak M. (17 November 2005). "Panelists Disagree Over Gaza's Occupation Status". University of Virginia School of Law. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  31. 1 2 Israel's control of the airspace and the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip.
  32. Map of Gaza fishing limits, "security zones".
  33. Israel's Disengagement Plan: Renewing the Peace Process: "Israel will guard the perimeter of the Gaza Strip, continue to control Gaza air space, and continue to patrol the sea off the Gaza coast. ... Israel will continue to maintain its essential military presence to prevent arms smuggling along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (Philadelphi Route), until the security situation and cooperation with Egypt permit an alternative security arrangement."
  34. "Israel: 'Disengagement' Will Not End Gaza Occupation". Human Rights Watch. 29 October 2004. Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  35. Gold, Dore; Institute for Contemporary Affairs (26 August 2005). "Legal Acrobatics: The Palestinian Claim that Gaza Is Still 'Occupied' Even After Israel Withdraws". Jerusalem Issue Brief. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. 5 (3). Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  36. Bell, Abraham (28 January 2008). "International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense". Jerusalem Issue Brief. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. 7 (29). Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  37. Transcript (22 January 2008). "Address by FM Livni to the 8th Herzliya Conference". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  38. Also referred to as Judea and Samaria Area or West Bank and Gaza Strip.
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