Southeast Asia’s location makes it one of the world’s great geographic crossroads. Many came to trade, leaving behind many cultures. The earliest settlers of the mainland probably came from China and South Asia. Later, people came from cen- tral Asia. No group ever united the region, but several powerful kingdoms arose.Traders and priests came from India and brought Hinduism and Buddhism. The people of Southeast Asia absorbed these religions into their existing religious beliefs. Muslim traders from Arabia and India brought Islam. Many Chinese migrated to Southeast Asia. They controlled northern Vietnam for about 1,000 years, starting in 100 B.C. Chinese culture affected Vietnam’s lan- guage, religion, art, government, and farming. But the Vietnamese never lost their identity. Europeans came for silks, spices, and precious metals. By the late 1800s, the Europeans had colonized all of Southeast Asia except Thailand. Europeans greatly changed the region’s physical and human geography. They cleared forests for plantations to grow coffee, tea, tobacco, and other cash crops. Many small Southeast Asian farmers had to work on plantations. Europeans also sold factory goods to their colonies, hurting local crafts. Over time, many different ethnic groups settled in Southeast Asia, influencing its cul- ture and religion. European control affected its geography. Europeans built roads and railroads. These helped port cities grow and attract- ed people from China and India. Conflicts arose between new immigrants and indigenous, or native, Southeast Asians. When Europeans carved out colonies, different ethnic groups were combined in one colony, while members of the same group were divided. After independence, conflicts between ethnic groups remained.


What major religions are found in Southeast Asia?
Diagram Skills What were the four main influences on Southeast Asia’s cultures?


Most countries in the region belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN promotes economic coop- eration and peace among its members. Unity within each country of Southeast Asia has been difficult to achieve. Myanmar, formerly called Burma, was a British colony until 1948. Since inde- pendence, several ethnic groups have fought against military dic- tatorship. Warfare and insur- gents, people who rebel against their government, have slowed Myanmar’s economic growth. Thailand, the only country in Southeast Asia that did not
become a European colony, has a strong national identity and a successful economy. Vietnam was a French colony. After World War II, France wanted it back. Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence and defeated the French in 1954. Vietnam was divided into Communist North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam. War broke out when the Communists in the North and South tried to reunite the two countries. The United States entered the war to help South Vietnam.
South Vietnam fell to the Communists in 1975. Vietnam reunited one year later. In the 1990s, Vietnam attracted foreign investors, and its economy boomed.Indonesia is made up of more than 13,000 islands. The people speak more than 250 languages and dialects. The Philippines were ruled by the Spanish, and then by the United States. It became independent in 1946. The Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture unify ethnic groups.
The tiny island of Singapore is an eco- nomic power.

How has Vietnam changed recently?
Diagram Skills What do Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have in common?