15 Jul 2011

Regional tensions and World War II

Regional tensions and World War II

The great interwar depression hit the Netherlands East Indies very badly. To protect Dutch exports to the colony, the import of Japanese goods was restricted. To maintain the prices of important Dutch products, such as rubber and tin, production and export were deliberately curtailed. These moves were resented by both Japan and the USA. Japan depended upon economic access to Indonesia, and the USA – a major importer of tin and rubber – resented Dutch ‘commodity control’ schemes. The USA also challenged Japanese claims to regional hegemony, and in this atmosphere there was an ever-growing likelihood of a war in the Pacific in which Indonesia would be embroiled.The Japanese overwhelmed Dutch resistance in 1942 with humiliating ease, taking the archipelago in a mere few days, and subjecting the former colonial masters to every
conceivable indignity. The PNI, with Sukarno at its head, was installed as an anti-Western puppet government.
For the Indonesians the occupation had positive and negative features. On the one hand, they were allowed use of the national anthem, the national language, and the national flag, and given military training by the Japanese. On the other, countless thousands were recruited for slave labour on such infamous projects as the Thai ‘death railway’, from which few returned. For those who remained in Indonesia, Japanese rule quickly revealed itself as even more oppressive than that of the Dutch. However, the Japanese did make efforts to improve rice production and to stimulate a local textile industry, and some of their officers genuinely contributed to the advancement of Indonesian nationalism.

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