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Saturday, 18 December, 1999, 11:33 GMT
Macau and the end of empire

Since 1945 western empires have been in decline in Asia, leaving Macau as the last colony to return to Asian control

The Japanese occupation in World War II provided the spur for many independence movements
The success of the Japanese advance in the early days of the war convinced many emerging Asian nationalist movements that the imperial powers were not invincible.

Indonesia was one of the first countries to proclaim a republic in 1945, but the Dutch were unwilling to let their only Asian colony go and fought a bitter four- year war before finally withdrawing in 1949.

The British too were unwilling to let India - the jewel in their imperial crown - go its own way, but growing nationalist unrest forced their hand and in 1947 India and Pakistan declared their independence.

A year later Burma and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) followed suit.

In Indochina the decolonisation process led to years of bitter war
In Malaya and northern Borneo Britain clung on to its colonies, fighting a long war against communist insurgents on the peninsular and, in Borneo, resisting Indonesian efforts to seize Sarawak and Brunei.

Eventually Malaya was granted independence in 1957, and the strategic naval base in Singapore followed suit eight years later in 1965.

In Indochina the French colonists also put up a fierce resistance to the growing nationalist movement, but a bruising military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam in 1954 finally forced their withdrawal.

In the years that followed, the US - fearing a communist take-over across Asia - poured thousands of troops and billions of dollars into a war that cost the lives of millions.

Hong Kong 1997: Britain's last Asian outpost goes back to China
In 1963 the Dutch withdrew from their final outpost in Asia, the western half of New Guinea which was ceded to Indonesia and 13 years later, in 1976, the Portuguese hastily abandoned their colony in East Timor - paving the way for that territory's long and bloody experience of Indonesian rule.

In 1984 the oil rich sultanate of Brunei cut its last ties with the UK leaving Hong Kong as the only piece of British empire left in Asia.

That episode came to an end in 1997, when the 99-year lease on Hong Kong expired and the territory reverted to mainland control.

The return of Hong Kong left Macau as both the oldest and last outpost of European empire left in Asia.

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