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Chandra Muzaffar The Relationship between Southeast Asia and the United States: A Contemporary Analysis SOUTHEAST ASIA EXHIBITS TREMENDOUS CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS diversity; all the major religions of the world can be found in the region. It is also marked by vast economic disparities. At one end ofthe spectrum is Singapore, which has a standard of living higher than that of Spain or Portugal. At the other end are countries like Laos and Burma (Myanmar), which are desperately poor. There is also a great deal of variety in the types of political systems that characterize the region. The Philippines is a democracy, the Republic of Vietnam a one-party state, and Brunei a semi-feudal monarchy. Yet all these countries are part ofa regional group­ ing called ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which was founded in 1967. It is the second most important and the most viable regional grouping in the world after the European Union. That is the backdrop to a region with which the United States has had a long and complex relationship. In the distant past, America’s interaction with the region was confined largely to the Philippines, which among the countries of Southeast Asia has had the longest ties with the United States. It was colonized by the United States after the American-Spanish War, at the end of the nineteenth century. The conquest and subjugation of the archipelago cost tens of thousands of Filipino lives, a figure not often reported in history books. It was a social research Vol 72 : No 4 : Winter 2005 903 bloody, brutal massacre. The United States brought democracy to the Philippines, but it reinforced the huge economic and social iniquities that were already entrenched from the Spanish colonial era. The new colonial power further emasculated indigenous Filipino cultures. There is an interesting twist to the story of how Washington decided to annex the Philippines to its nascent empire. It was a very difficult decision for the president at that time, William McKinley, to make. And he, like another president we know today, consulted God. It was after his “conversation” with God that he decided that he must liberate the people of the Philippines, enlighten those poor souls. So American presidents every now and then have this habit of consult­ ing God. And very often, they come up with the wrong answers, which leads us to conclude that God could not have advised them! To examine the relationship between the United States and Southeast Asia after the end of colonialism, the postcolonial era may be divided into five periods: the first from 1945 to 1961; the second from 1961 to 1975; the third from 1975 to 1997: the fourth from 1997 to 2003; and the fifth and final period from 2003 to the present. The year 1945 is important because that is when Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s most popu­ lous and most important nation, proclaimed its independence and the United States endorsed its independence. Nineteen sixty-one is impor­ tant because it marks the year in which the US first became politically involved with Vietnam, and 1975 is the year the Vietnam War came to an end with Vietnam’s victory over the United States. A major financial crisis hit Southeast Asia in 1997 and several Southeast Asian nations became critical of Washington’s economic role in the region. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and perceptions of America began to change within a significant segment of Southeast Asian society. FROM 1945 TO 1961 For Southeast Asians, the major concern during the first period of the relationship was decolonization: freeing their countries from the colo­ nial yoke, establishing independent states, and seeking sovereignty. There were two high points in this period. The Vietnamese defeated the 904 social research French, a major colonial power, at the famous battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Their victory resonated throughout the region, and is mainly credited to Ho Chi Minh, the illustrious nationalist who brought a measure of pride to Vietnam and Southeast Asia. The other name that stands out in Southeast Asian history, which was made memorable in 1955, is Bandung. In that year Bandung, Indonesia’s city of flowers, played...


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