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View series: Europe's colonial expansion, 1820-1939

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European Expansion in the Far East, 1820-1860

This map is part of a series of 19 animated maps showing the history of Europe's colonial expansion, 1820-1939.

Following the progressive colonisation of Siberia in the 17th century, Russia was the largest European power in Asia.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Russia was still forbidden access to the lower basin of the Amur River by China. Other ancient nations, such as Vietnam, Burma, Siam, Korea and Japan, although declining in importance, also managed to put up obstacles to European expansionism.

In Southern Asia and the East Indies, the situation was more favourable to European expansion.

The decline of the Mughal Empire, and India’s state of political and ethnic fragmentation, greatly facilitated the British East India Company’s expansion in the sub-continent.

In Malaysia, the company held a number of scattered, but strategically important, trading posts: Penang, Malacca, and Singapore.

In 1824, the Treaty of London shared out the East Indies between the British and Dutch.

In this immense archipelago, only Java and a few islands and coastal regions were held directly by the Dutch authorities, the rest were in the hands of local sovereigns with whom the Netherlands had negotiated treaties.

The Spanish, having conquered the Philippines in the 16th century, were experiencing difficulties putting down the resistance of the Muslim “Moros” in the South.

The Portuguese maintained sovereignty over Macau, East Timor, and a few Indian outposts.

The first French Empire in Asia had been reduced to five trading posts on the Indian coast.

Between 1830 and the late 1850s, the expansion of European territories continued, but more slowly:

Russia conquered Kazakhstan.

The British expend their possessions in India and Lower Burma

This was a period of territorial, and particularly economic, consolidation in existing possessions, while the outbreak of the Opium Wars prepared the way for a new phase of expansion.  China was defeated and forced to sign a long series of one-sided treaties which opened up a number of ports to Western trade and allowed the English to establish a colony in Hong Kong.

Similar unfair treaties were imposed on Japan and Siam.

These treaties gave the colonial powers a free hand for further expansion, as could be seen from Russia’s annexation of the lower basin of the Amur River and France’s intervention in Cochin China.