South-East Asia: A Short History

South-East Asia: A Short History

South-East Asia: A Short History

South-East Asia: A Short History

Excerpt

The term 'South-east Asia' is a convenient one. Although the area to which it refers forms neither a political nor a cultural entity, it contains a group of countries whose social structures have much in common, and whose past history and present politics show many similarities.

Geographically, the region is fairly well defined, though again it does not form a natural unit. It really comprises two broad geographical groupings: mainland South-east Asia, or the Indo- Chinese peninsula, containing the countries of Burma, Siam, Indo-China and Malaya; and island South-east Asia, or the Malaysian archipelago, stretching from Sumatra eastward and north-eastward to the Philippines. Mainland and island South- east Asia together form a great wall, with a few narrow gateways, between the Indian and Pacific Oceans; at the same time they provide a causeway--partly a series of stepping-stones--from Asia to Australia. A sea and land crossroads is thus formed by the north-to-south sweep of the peninsula and archipelago, and by the east-to-west sea-lane that runs between them.

On the north, the limits of the region are well defined by the mountain barriers that stand between the Indo-Chinese peninsula and the continental mainland of Asia. At the south-eastern end, however, where the archipelago stretches down towards Australia, no such clear definition is immediately apparent. But a closer view of the structure of the archipelago enables us to draw a boundaryline between the Moluccas and New Guinea, for structurally New Guinea belongs to the Australian continent and was once joined to it. On the other hand, the western islands of the archipelago-- Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo, and other islands lying west of a line drawn through the Strait of Macassar and the Strait of Lombok-- stand in a shallow sea on the Asiatic continental shelf and were once joined to Asia. The islands between them and New Guinea-- the Lesser Sundas from Lombok eastward across to Timor Laut . . .

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