The use of a single word — decolonisation — to refer to the transfer of sovereignty from the imperial powers to their former colonies after 1945 may suggest a uniform process with a common set of causes. Were that true, it would make an account of the ‘political economy’ of decolonisation much easier to draw up. This suggestion is, unfortunately, largely erroneous: decolonisation in the Middle East, South and South-East Asia and Africa followed different chronologies, sprang from a variety of causes and took various forms. Japan’s meteoric victories over the colonial powers directly and indirectly strengthened Asian nationalism and communism, which were about a political generation in advance of Africa. While the British empire in India, Ceylon and Burma was dissolving in the later 1940s, and the French and Dutch were fighting to restore their authority in Indo-China and the East Indies, European colonialism was having a new lease of life in Africa. Not that the imperial game was up in Asia: the British successfully reoccupied Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaya, and had short-lived illusions about the revival of the old ‘concessionary’ enclaves in China (Cain and Hopkins, 1993, pp. 275–81; Shai, 1980). The French and Dutch still attracted native allies, and the disparity between their forces and peasant insurrectionary movements (yet to be armed by the Soviet Union or communist China) remained considerable.
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