Broader picture

Apart from the pure colonial interest of the Dutch in Indonesia, there were a whole new range of issues – such as the cold war situation with USSR and the rise of communism throughout the world – that snowballed into this post-war environment. And the behaviour of the Australian, Dutch, British and American Government needs to be placed in the context of the global post-war situation. The Netherlands were only just liberated and were virtually bankrupt. NEI provided before the war roughly 25% of its GDP.

The War Allies concentrated their efforts on stopping Russia from moving into Vienna and the Adriatic, therefore limited resources were being made available in the Asia Pacific region.

 At the same time the struggle for independence and decolonisation took place across the Asian region: NEI, Malaysia, Indochina and India. All colonial powers had problems with letting go of their rich pickings from their colonies, but the battles were unwinnable and the people in these countries had to pay dearly for their independence. At the same time the result of all of this was similar to what happened in the NEI, the colonists all lost their empires.

From 1942 onwards – after Pearl Harbour – America started to take over the global leadership role from Britain. This has ever since had an enormous effect on global politics.

The Indo-China War (Vietnam) and the Korean War as well as the partition of India all took place within the same time frame.   Furthermore, the American support for Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang), led by Chiang Kai-shek collapsed when they were ousted by the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong. The cold war against communism was in full swing.

In SE Asia there was an immediate discussion about a Pacific Pact like the Atlantic Pact (NATO). However, there was never widespread support for it. Many Asian countries didn’t simply want a military pact but were interested in broader developments.

The Australian Labor government was ousted in 1949 and was followed by 17 years of a Coalition Government of the Liberal Party and the Country Party, led by Robert Menzies (1949-1966). During the and after the war it had largely support the Dutch position and had been rather hostile towards the Indonesian independence movement.

Now in power the more right-wing Australian government adopted a hostile attitude to The Republik of Indonesia, supplying arms to rightist military rebels who were fighting against the Indonesian government. Furthermore, it used propaganda as well as  diplomatic and military opposition directed at the anti-imperialist policies of president Sukarno in the 1960s. This difficult period of conflicted Australian – Indonesian relations has until now often overshadowed the very close link that had been established during those early years of the Republik.

Australia kept maintaining its White Australian policy, which upset many of the Asian countries reminding them of the arrogance of the ‘white man knows best’ attitude and of colonialism. In the end the only result was the ANZUS pact between Australia, New Zealand and the USA which started in 1951. The broader regional alliance was formed in 1967 as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which Australia was finally admitted as a member in 2005.