European influence in the region wasn’t not limited to British-controlled India. Both the Portuguese and the Dutch competed to monopolize trade in Indonesia, while the British established a colony on the coast of Australia in 1788. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia all became colonies of France. Even countries that weren’t not directly colonized found themselves forced to engage with the West on unfavorable terms, as was the case with Japan, which was forced from its isolationist policy to open trade by a U.S. gunship in 1854. China had a similar confrontation with the British, who initiated the Opium Wars between 1839 and 1860 in order to force China to agree to its trade terms. The Chinese rebelled against Western influence during the Boxer Rebellion (1898–1901).
Russia was also a major player in the region, as the massive country vied with the British for control. The British invaded Afghanistan in 1837 and again in 1878, in the Anglo-Afghan wars, in an attempt to create a buffer state between its holdings in India and the Russian Empire. When Russia began to make inroads into East Asia, particularly Korea, Japan launched the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), successfully putting a halt to Russian advancement. As the first Asian country to defeat a European power, Japan emerged as a major power on the world stage.
World War II weakened European control of countries in Asia. Nationalist uprisings in the region led to the independence of several nations, most notably India in 1947, which had partitioned into the Muslim-majority Pakistan and the Hindu-majority India. The violence that accompanied the partition set the stage for acrimonious relations between the two countries, which that would extend into the twenty-first century, particularly as each nation contested ownership of the region of Kashmir.
But even as the West relinquished direct control in Asia, the region became a battleground for ideological control between the Communist Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union had a powerful ally in China, which had been ruled by the Communist Party since 1949. The Korean War, in which the Soviet-controlled North Korea attempted to unify the country by invading the South in 1950, included Chinese soldiers fighting alongside North Korean soldiers, with backing by the Soviet Union against a coalition of U.S. and South Korean soldiers. The war was essentially fought to a standstill, ending in 1953.
The country of Vietnam had also divided into the Communist-controlled North and the Western-aligned South, following the ousting of the French in the First Indochina War (1946–1954). An attempt by North Vietnam to unify the country under a Communist regime resulted in the Vietnam War (1954–1975), which saw an increasing number of American troops fighting against Soviet- and Chinese-backed Vietnamese forces. South Vietnam fell to the North in 1975. The conflict in Vietnam would have devastating consequences for its neighbors, Cambodia and Laos, which came under Communist control following the U.S. withdrawal from the region; the Communist regimes in those countries implemented harsh policies that resulted in the deaths of millions of people. Meanwhile, an attempted coup by Communists in Indonesia in 1965 was successfully rebuffed, leading to the establishment of a 32-year dictatorship.
The ideological battle between communism and capitalism in Asia waned following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The break-up of the monolithic union into 15 new republics reshaped Central Asia and Eastern Europe dramatically with the creation of the new nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. These nations were now faced with the daunting task of forging new economic, political, and social systems.
Elsewhere in Asia, the fall of the Soviet Union resulted in a shift from military power to economic power. The economic powerhouses known as the Asian Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong) that had built their economies on strong exports to the West starting in the 1960s were now joined by China and India in aggressively seeking international trade relations and liberalizing their economies. China became the world’s largest exporter, although criticism of its trade policies would lead U.S. President Donald Trump to impose stiff tariffs on China in a trade war during the late 2010s.
Asian countries such as Afghanistan and North Korea, which that had relied on Soviet support during the Cold War, found themselves isolated or embroiled in a power vacuum that left them vulnerable to terrorist influences. In the case of Afghanistan, its harboring of terrorists following the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 resulted in a U.S. invasion and occupation that continued as of 2019.