World History 2 224 - 13.2.3 South and Southeast Asia

As Japan moved through Southeast Asia, it promised the inhabitants that it ultimately supported independent governments there. In fact, new governments were established in Vietnam, Burma, and other places, and though they were always clearly under the thumb of the Japanese military, there was some optimism that “Asia for Asians” might prove to truly work (Figure 13.13).

This is a map titled “Southern Asia, 1941. Japanese Centrifugal Offensive (and continued operations) January to May 1942. Fifteenth Army and Southern Force (Navy) Operations.” In this map, the following countries are shown: India, Bhutan, Nepal, Southern China, Burma, Indochina, Thailand, and Ceylon. The waters shown are the Bay of Bengal, Gulf of Thailand, and the Gulf of Tonkin and various rivers. To the west of India there is a label that reads ‘Japanese submarines attacked allied shipping in these waters.’ In northern Bay of Bengal there is a label that reads ‘Major Japanese Reinforcements: 18th Division (from Malaya); 56th Division (from NEI); Infantry Regiment (33rd Division); 1st Tank Regiment; 14th Tank Regiment; 7th Air Brigade (from Malaya); 12th Air Brigade (from NEI).’ On the east side of India there is a label that reads ‘Air and surface raids against allied shipping, 6 April.’ Below that another label reads ‘Indian Ocean Raid on 4-12 April. Admiral Kondo, CINC Southern France, was the overall commander of the First Air Fleet and the Malayan Force.’ There is a dotted line from the island of Mergui in the Mergui Archipelago, Thailand, to an island called Ozawa in the Bay of Bengal, labeled ‘Malayan Force,’ then going to the cities of Cocanada and Vizagapatam on the east coast of India. The dotted lines are labeled by an airplane at the ends. There is a dotted line labeled with an airplane leaving this area, travelling southeast past the island of Ozawa to the southeastern portion of the Bay of Bengal. There is a dotted line travelling from the bottom of the map, labeled ‘From Staring Bay, Celebes’ splitting into two dotted lines at a label that says “Nagumo.” One goes to the western city of Colombo on the western coast of Ceylon, labeled ‘First Air Fleet,’ and then with and airplane and another label ‘5 Apr.’ The other branch of the dotted line goes to the eastern city of Trinconalee on the eastern coast of Ceylon. It is labeled with an airplane and the label ‘9 Apr.’ A dotted line goes east out of the middle of this dotted line, over the Nicobar Islands in the south of the Bay of Bengal and continues by the southwest coast of Thailand in the water, labeled ‘12 Apr.’ A label with ‘Abandoned 23 Jan’ is located east of the city of Mergui in Thailand. Three dotted lines labeled ’10 Dec” go out from the Gulf of Thailand to two places on the western coast of Thailand, with the middle one ending at Victoria point with the label ’11 Dec.’ A dotted line extends from southeast of Bangkok, goes through Bangkok, and splits into two. One portion heads west to Tavay, Thailand with the label ’19 Jan’. while the second part goes south to the city of Surat. In the middle of the map of Thailand, there is a label with “Fifteenth” as well as one with ‘Fifteenth Army Forces (Jan 1942); 33rd Division (less one regiment); 55th Division (less one regiment); Army Troops; 5th Air Division (SPT).’ A dotted line comes out of an area in the Bay of Bengal north of the Mergui Archipelago, labeled ‘(Apr 1942)’, then with a white box with a red ‘x’ through it, and the number ‘33’, followed by another white box with a red ‘x’ through it, with the number ‘56’, followed by another white box with a red ‘x’ through it, and the number ‘18’, ending in the city of Moulmeth with the label ‘8 Mar.’ In the western portion of Thailand, there are two white boxes with a red ‘x’ through them, one with the label 33(-) to its right, and another with ‘55(-)’ to its right. There is a label with ’20 Jan’ between them. Throughout the country of Burma, there are arrows heading north, with various labels: ‘5’Mar’ and a white box with a red ‘x’ and the number ‘18’ at the city of Pegu, to the west of Pegu there is a white box with ‘33’ and a white box to the northeast with ‘55(-)’ to its right. To the east of the city of Toungoo there is a label with ’28 Mar-3 Apr’ and to its east there is a label with ’19-30 Mar’. Southwest of the city of Loi-Kaw, there is a label with ’16 Apr’ and to its northeast there are labels with ’23 Apr’ and a white box with a red ‘x’ with the number ‘56’ to its right. To the city’s northwest there is a label with ’22 Apr.’ South of the city of Yenangyaung there is a label with ’19-20 Apr.’ South of the city of Mandalay there is a label with ’30 Apr’ and northeast of the city of Lashio there is a label with ’28 Apr.’ Southwest of the city of Pakokku there is a label with ’11 May’. In the northern portion of Burma there are various dotted lines that head in curved directions up toward China.
Figure 13.13 In an effort to drive the British out of their colonial possessions in South Asia and gain control of them for their own use, the Japanese launched numerous attacks in the region. This map shows that the Japanese focused their offensive in the region on Burma in particular. (credit: “Pacific War - Southern Asia 1942” by U.S. Army/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

In many ways, however, the colonial experience continued for these areas, because their natural resources were simply redirected to the Japanese government’s needs rather than to Europe’s. Japanese occupation proved abusive and high-handed, marked by the denigration of local religions and customs and sometimes by physical abuse, such as against workers building the Burma-Thailand Railway. It became clear to many nationalists that they now had an enemy in the Japanese. In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh raised his nationalist (and communist) forces against the Japanese in a guerrilla war aided by the United States. In Malaysia, similar guerrilla movements developed to oust the Japanese.

The 1935 India Act had granted significant autonomy to the British provinces of India and introduced directly elected provincial assemblies. Fascism, communism, and nationalist desires for full independence all gained adherents among Indians beginning to more fully engage in politics. The political parties in India were either frustrated over broken British promises or anxious to see what rewards India might obtain for active and full support of Britain. For example, the Muslim League often leveraged its support for Britain for political advantage against the Hindu majority population.

Meanwhile, by mid-1940, anti-British sentiments had begun to erupt across India. In the summer of 1942, while Japanese and Allied forces were sparring in neighboring Burma, Britain’s security concerns about India grew, and its attempts to repress Indian agitation heightened political tensions there. In August 1942, the Congress Party, the largest political party in India, granted leadership to the committed nationalist Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi and supported his nonviolent “Quit India” movement. Immediately the British arrested Gandhi and other Congress Party leaders and detained them through most of the war.

A devastating famine in Bengal reached a peak in 1943. It was caused by the dispatch of Indian food supplies to support the war effort in Europe, natural disasters toward the end of 1942, an influx of refugees fleeing the Japanese offensives in Burma, and general governmental mismanagement. The famine added fuel to the Indian desire for independence.

Continuing to assert its intention to liberate Asia from White rule, Japan successfully recruited the support of the Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose, a political rival of Gandhi and former president of the Indian National Congress. Bose assembled a Free India Legion of fighters that eventually grew into the Indian National Army (INA), about forty thousand strong. Fighting to liberate India, the INA assisted Japanese military operations in Burma. When the Japanese seized the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal in 1942, they set up Bose as the leader of the Provisional Government (Azad Hind) of India, and the State of Burma became another subordinate partner and ally in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere until Japan’s defeat in 1945.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax