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Independence for Burma, Ceylon and Malaysia

This map is part of a series of 14 animated maps showing the history of Decolonization after 1945.

With India’s independence, it was no longer useful to maintain Burma and Ceylon as buffer zones with other colonial empires.

Burma, which had been occupied by Japan during the Second World War, demanded its independence as soon as the war was over in 1945. The new Labour government in London immediately opened up negotiations. After elections and the ratification of the constitution, Burma’s independence was proclaimed on 4 January 1948.

In Ceylon, the British government and the leaders of the independence movement fully agreed on the measures to be taken for the transfer of power.

The island celebrated its independence on 4 February 1948, in exchange for granting a concession for two British naval bases.

In the mid 1950s, internal fighting broke out between the Tamul Hindu minority from Southern India and the Sinhalese Buddhists. The civil war lasted for decades and finally ended in 2009.

In 1972, Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka.

In Malaysia, the situation was more complex because of tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities, together with a strong Communist opposition that emerged during resistance against the Japanese occupation. It took the British more than ten years to bring an end to a war of harassment led by guerrillas in the jungle.

Nevertheless, throughout the guerrilla war, negotiations on the future regime continued and the Malaysian peninsula became independent on 31 August 1957 as the Federation of Malaya.

In 1963, the Federation was extended to include Singapore and the two territories of Sarawak and North Borneo. Two years later, in 1965, Singapore withdrew from the federation and became an independent state.

Apart from Burma, all the former British territories became members of the Commonwealth upon obtaining independence. This allowed the United Kingdom to maintain a privileged position in Asia.

The last British possession on the Asian continent was the territory of Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997.