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The economic, social and political impact of the Great Depression on Southeast Asia

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  1. The Depression's most direct impact.
  2. The value of exports.
  3. The Depression's effect on Southeast Asia in the monetary sphere.
  4. Positive effect of the depression on Japan.
  5. This emergence of Japan as a serious contender.
  6. The economic impact and the social sphere.
  7. Social impact on Burma.
  8. Political change brought about by the Depression in Malaya.
  9. Effect on the Chinese and Indians.
  10. Conclusion.

Southeast Asia did not escape the effects of the Great Depression that burst upon the Western industrialised world at the beginning of the 1930s. The 1929 crisis formed a watershed in the history of Southeast Asia, leaving neither the economic, social nor political sphere untouched. Apart from destroying markets and stimulating greater collusion between international capital, the Depression also notably brought an era of uninhibited immigration to an end- a policy change that had far reaching political and social consequences. Yet there were two sides of the coin to the crisis- while the Great Depression devastated, in its trail of destruction, it also encouraged positive reforms by revealing insidious structural flaws hitherto unaddressed.

[...] Yet the social impact of the crisis differed for each individual, depending on the dependence of income earners on export production. The Depression could paradoxically prove a time of opportunity-especially for some urbanites. While others reeled from the effects of wage cuts and unemployment, those who retained salaried employment- usually more senior and experienced men- often prospered, experiencing an increase in standard of living as retail prices fell faster than wages. For instance, the real income of the income of Filipino civil servants doubled between 1929 and 1932. [...]

[...] A history of Thai rice industry reveals that in contrast to the dislocating developments on the Mekong and Irrawaddy deltas, distress and deprivation was much less evident in Siam's central plain. The pace of expansion in rice cultivation had been much slower due to a relative lack of capital and a less elaborate and formal credit network. And unlike Vietnam and Burma, exploitation of formerly untilled area remained essentially the prerogative of the peasant. This meant land stayed relatively undeveloped and much more slack was accorded- an advantage during a crisis as there were more options which could be exploited in times of need. [...]

[...] By 1934, Japan had outstripped Europe as a supplier of imports to the Dutch East Indies, holding nearly a one-third share of that sector- destroying forever the unchallenged hegemony of the Western colonial powers over the trade and commerce of Southeast Asia and as we will soon discuss, eliminating the vestiges of free trade. This emergence of Japan as a serious contender forced the Western colonial powers to take steps to protect their immediate interests. The Japan ?threat' was the prime factor in the spate of new duties and tariffs erected throughout the region in the 1930s, which involved not only the protectionist regimes of the French or the Dutch, but also the Straits Settlements, the traditional bastion of British free trade. [...]

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