Washington Hides Behind the British (August 1945 – November 1946)
While Washington's strategic and economic priorities, as well as its attitude to decolonisation, were important factors in postwar US relations with the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), the Truman Administration could not ignore the context of America's prewar connections with the colony, which, in the years before the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific, were strictly limited and based largely on trade. 1 It was only when the prospect of losing access to the NEI's rich natural wealth arose that Washington developed an appreciation of its strategic importance. However, when the Japanese surrendered, the US had no military presence in the NEI and did not, therefore, regard the colony as a priority. Washington's attitude towards the NEI also assumed that there would be little, if any, opposition to the restoration of Dutch sovereignty from nationalist forces.
Before the war, the US had significant trade and investment links with the NEI. In 1940, the colony was the source of more American imports, by value, than any other Asian country and was America's fourth largest export market in Asia. 2 The US was also important to the NEI as a trading partner, accounting for 20 per cent of its exports and supplying 23 per cent of its imports – the NEI was the fourth largest market for American arms. 3 Stanvac, Royal Dutch Shell's (RDS) only competitor, controlled 27 per cent of NEI oil-refining capacity, amounting to 2 million tons each year, and had assets valued at $50 million. 4 There were also substantial investments by organisations such as General Motors, Caltex, the Goodyear Rubber Company, the US Rubber Company and