Japanese occupation in Indochina. The Japanese Invasion of French Indochina, also known as the Vietnam Expedition, was a move of Japanese Empire in September 1940, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, to prevent China from importing arms and fuel through French Indochina, especially through Sino-Vietnam border. With the outbreak of World War II, France was force to withdraw its best troops from Indochina in order to help their force in the war in Europe. Thus, it was a wide open opportunity to the Japanese. Japan saw that French Indochina would need to be “protected” so that other foreign powers couldn’t seek to take advantage of France’s plight. Earlier, Japan demanded the French colonial to close the Hanoi-Kunming railway in order to abandon the shipments of war-related goods from Vietnam to China. Later, the Japanese sought to gain control over the Haiphong-Yunnan railroad so that it could attack the main supply based of Chiang Kai-shek. After the fall of France during World War II, that the Japanese seized power from French and occupied the entire Indochina. However, the colony was still administered by Vichy France, but was under the Japanese supervision until a brief period of complete Japanese control between March and August 1945.
In Cambodia and Laos, in the short term at least, despite the fact that the French continued to administer these states and to support the traditional rulers, so that there was a limited growth of nationalist feeling compared to other states in the region.
In Cambodia, politicization just began during World War II. By the 1940s, Khmer intellectuals had begun to form three institutions including the scholar Buddhist Institute, Cambodia’s sole French-language high school, and Khmer newspaper Nagara Varta (Angkor Wat). Cambodian feelings were outraged in 1940 after getting back some territories of the north-western provinces from Thailand under the Japanese support. However, the nationalistic movements in Cambodia were slickly under French control. The French and Japanese agreed to let French continued to occupy the Indochina, but Japanese forces could move freely in Indochina. French role was variegated in the growth of Cambodian nationalism. In order to reduce Japanese popular fascination in the country, French began to provide a quasi-nationalist movement to young Cambodians. Simultaneously, French glorified Khmer’s past and its future in “partnership” with France. Moreover, French also promoted the status and salary of Cambodians in the government service. Unconsciously, in 1943 they pushed the strong nationalism feelings further by launching a program to replace Khmer traditional writing with a roman alphabet. The Buddhist sangha and intellectuals protested against this program because they considered that this was an attack on Khmer traditional learning and cultural heritage. The feeling of anti-French continued until the Japanese seized control of government in March 1945, and the Romanization was cancelled. In April 1945, the Japanese provide “independent” to Cambodia, but after the surrender of Japan in August 1945, there was no next step for Cambodia “independent.” Furthermore, there was still no anti-colonial movement in Cambodia such as national movements emerged in Vietnam and Indonesia in 1945.
In June 1940, after the Fall of France, Laos was controlled by the Axis-puppet Vichy France government which was under the supervision of the Japanese. Most of Laos stayed under the control of French supervision until March 1945. Before March 1945, French had brought significant changes to Laos. A “National renovation movement” was assembled; schools and other amenities were built; Lao music, dance and literature were promoted. Moreover, First Lao newspaper was also emerged at that time. The nationalistic movement arose as well, especially in the Lao lowlanders. On 9 March, 1945, Japanese occupied Laos, so Laos stayed under the administration of French along with Japanese supervision. During the Japanese occupation of Laos, enormous amount of French officials were imprisoned. At the same time, King Sisavang Vong, who tried to declare independence of Laos and accepted Laos under the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity sphere, were put into the prison as well. Japan continued to rule Laos despite constant civil unrest against it until it was force to withdraw from Indochina after the Japanese surrender in August 1945.
The Japanese occupied Vietnam from September 1940 until the end of World War II. Japan came to Vietnam with the policy “Asia for Asians” and Japanese forces took only a week to control Vietnam. However, Japan still left the French colonial government there, because Japan could not provide enough men to occupy the entire of Vietnam. Japan left the French in charge and developed Vietnam as its client state. The French continued to colonize Indochina, but ultimate political and military power was not in their hands. Japanese demanded for resources and had priority over French policies. Thus, Japanese troops could freely access to Vietnam’s roads, rail network and ports, so that the Japanese could conquer Thailand and Burma easily. During the Japanese occupation, the Vietnamese were told that the Japanese were not conquerors, but “liberators” – Japan would drive away the white imperialists out of Asia. Simultaneously, Japanese language course were introduced; Japanese films, literature and poetry were translate into local language as well. However, Vietminh considered Japanese as “number one enemy”. It was notable that the Vietnamese Communists rose up in the 1930s, before the arrival of Japanese. However, the arrival of Japan made Vietnamese Communists felt that there was no hope for them to demand for getting any power. Their numbers remained small and the French was trying to eliminate the political force that was considered as a threat to their role in Vietnam as well. As the war advanced and the altered of the political environment, it was an opportunity for the Vietnamese Communist-Nationalists. The Vietnamese was trying to develop its force in order to seize the power at the end of the war. By June 1945, Ho Chi Minh felt strong enough to create a Viet Minh-controlled area in north-western Vietnam. By August, Viet Minh forces seized the control of Japanese-held villages and towns. In early August, the Japanese forces prepared to leave after the Japanese surrender in World War II. Within days, Vietminh forces took control of most of northern and central Vietnam and declared Vietnam’s independence On 2 September 1945 in Hanoi.
Exceptional case: Thailand
Thailand was the most interesting country among Southeast Asian nations during the colonial period as well as the period of World War II because it was the only state in the region that was not under the foreign colonization. At the beginning of World War II, Thailand was under the control of an authoritarian government which was led by Prime Minister Phibun. In that regime, the government supported the restoration of the territories in Cambodia and Laos, and they rose up anti-French sentiment in the country as well. Phibun was trying to keep closer relations with Japan in order to seek support against France. In October 1940, a conflict between Thai and French forces broke out along Thailand’s eastern border. Then, it was a good opportunity for Japan to intervene to mediate the conflict. Japan used its influence with the Vichy regime in France to gain concessions for Thailand. As a result, France agreed to give away western part of Laos and most of Cambodian Battambang province to Thailand. The restoration of Thai lost territory increased Phibun’s reputation in Thailand. However, Japan wanted to maintain the relationship with Vichy, so that Thailand was forced to get only a quarter of its demanded land. In addition, they had to pay six millions piasters as a concession to the French. Relations between Japan and Thailand became tense; then Phibun turned to courting the British and Americans instead. In December 1941, Japan moved its troops into Thailand and demanded the rights to access through Thailand to invade British Burma and Malaya. Thai troops resisted but later the Phibun’s government called for ceasefire. After that, a mutual offensive-defensive alliance pact between Thailand and Japan was signed and Thai entered a military alliance with Japan. Japanese troops were allowed to move freely in Thailand; however, Thailand still controlled its own armed forces as well as internal affairs. In January 1942, Thais declared war on Britain and the United States because of the Japan pressure. Meanwhile, Japan had put its troops in Thailand and built the infamous Death Railway by using many Asian labour forces as well as allied prisoners of war. According to M. Walsh (2005), the Japanese engineers predicted that Death Railway would be completed in five years. However, the Japanese army forced the prisoners to finish this railway in only sixteen months. The causalities in the construction were very high – there were about 12,400 deaths among the total 61, 700 labour forces. In 1943, there was tense situation between Japan and Thailand, and many Thai people began to against Japan. Because of the war, Thailand had experienced the economic disruption as well. In July 1944, Phibun resigned from office and left Thailand with the problem of preparing Thailand for an Allied victory. Thai politicians were under the controlled of Japanese until August 1945 – Japanese surrender in World War II.